iSchool support propels Paralympian to success

Throughout her racing career, Paralympian Amanda McGrory (MS '18) has had many fans cheering her on, but she considers her fans at the iSchool to be particularly special. At commencement ceremonies last weekend, she presented the iSchool with the Order of Ikkos, a medal given to Olympic and Paralympic medalists to pass on to organizations or people who have supported them on their journey.

McGrory is an elite competitive athlete, having won seven Paralympic medals and over 25 marathons. Understandably, this requires an intense training schedule that lasts year-round. The iSchool made sure that she was able to continue competing while also pursuing her MS/LIS degree.  

According to McGrory, athletics taught her discipline, especially with her schedule. This discipline was vital to her success in graduate school. In addition to her training and classes, she also worked as a graduate assistant for the School's Instructional Technology and Design Office and Help Desk.

"The iSchool is amazing and has been so incredibly supportive of me," she said. "I competed in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games eight months after I started my graduate program. Everyone—my coworkers in my assistantship, my instructors, and the administration—has been willing to work with me and do anything they could to help me succeed. They allowed me to tailor the program to what I needed in order to keep competing. I can't think of a better place for my Ikkos medal."

McGrory was drawn to Illinois for her undergraduate study because of the rich legacy of the adaptive sports program at the University. In the 1940s, Tim Nugent pioneered Illinois' wheelchair athletics program, and nearly 70 years later, Illinois is the undisputed leader in collegiate adaptive sports. While earning her bachelor's degree in psychology, McGrory participated on two sports teams.

"Sports have been a huge part of my development as a person. Competing has helped build my self-confidence and my independence. That's why I really love working with adaptive sports programs whenever I can to help get kids started," she said.

McGrory loves working with children, especially in her role as a coach at the Illinois Track Camp held each summer—the same camp she attended when she was 12 and 13 years old. She also gives talks in schools and supports programs that help defray the cost of sports equipment for students.

"One of the hardest things about adaptive athletics is the huge barrier to entry because of the cost of the equipment," she said. "Every adaptive sport requires a different piece of specialized equipment, and that is not cheap. Even a basic, entry-level racing chair can be close to $2,000, which is a huge commitment for a family—especially one with a young child who might not like it or will probably outgrow it in just a few years."

McGrory is interested in museums and archives and hopes to work in one of these settings after graduation. She is now completing an extended internship at the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, assisting the archives with selecting artifacts to appear in the U.S. Olympic Museum set to open a few blocks away in 2019. This 60,000-square-foot museum will include interactive exhibits through which visitors can attempt to train like the athletes, be transported to opening ceremonies, and learn about life-changing developments in sports medicine. The museum will also be home to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. 

"At the same time I was applying for the internship, I received an email from someone else who had no idea I was applying to work in the archives. They asked if I would be willing to donate any of my own items to the museum, so I might just put together my own exhibit!" she laughed.

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