Person of the Week
Anjali Forber-Pratt PhD
Paralympic Athlete, Mission: Dream. Dive. Do.
My mission and motto is “Dream. Drive. Do.” It’s so much more than being a Paralympic athlete. My mission is about helping others reach their full potential. It’s not just about sitting around and talking, but taking the risk and putting yourself in a position to do whatever it is you have set your mind to do.
1. What led you to the mission of being a Paralympic athlete?
I grew up in Massachusetts — twenty minutes west of Boston. I was adopted from India when I was two months old and two months after arriving in the United States, I got sick with transverse myelitis. This infection left me paralyzed from the waist down.
When I was a five-year-old kid, I got to see my first Boston Marathon and saw people go flying by in racing wheelchairs. That was an eye opening experience for me because I had never seen anything like it. I never realized that athletes with disabilities could compete at that high level of ability. I didn’t know that the Paralympics even existed. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I could have a life – disability and all!
After seeing those wheelchair racers, I got involved in a Saturday sports clinic. I started trying various sports and my athletic career took off from there. I set goals – high goals – for myself. (Click here to see an inspiring video about Dr. Forber-Pratt and her life as an athlete and mentor.)
A particular wheel chair athlete named Jean Driscoll blew me away. She was one of my childhood heroes. She went on to become an eight-time winner of the Boston marathon. (Click here to see a video with Dr. Forber-Pratt and Jean Driscoll.)
Growing up with a disability was challenging. It was hard finding a place where I could do sports. Unfortunately I couldn’t just go up the street and join my local sports club. However, there are now Paralympic sport clubs and chapters of Disabled Sports USA and other clubs such as Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA. They have local and regional chapters that offer a lot of programs including sport clinics. They are open to people with disabilities — including those who want to try all kinds of sports. These organizations also help individuals transitioning into a more competitive side of sports. The Paralympic sports clubs provide those resources and connections that feed into the Paralympics. They work closely with the United States Olympic committee and help those wanting a more competitive experience.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
It’s incredible. I had the opportunity to represent Team USA at two Paralympic games in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. I believe that being a member of Team USA comes with a responsibility to “pay it forward” and be a strong role model. My experience on Team USA has provided me with this incredible platform to change the world and help educate others. My mission and motto is “Dream. Drive. Do.” It’s so much more than being a Paralympic athlete. My mission is about helping others reach their full potential. That’s my mind set on how I approach my life and how I capitalize on who I am.
3. What was your best day as a Paralympic athlete?
I would say that one of my most fond memories was in January of 2011. I was competing at the 2011 International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was competing in the 200 meters – my absolute favorite event. My training came together at the right time and at the right moment. It was one of those days when everything came together – the right time, the right place. My mind set was where it needed to be. I actually finished the race more than two lengths ahead and was honored as world champion in the 200 meters. It was a beautiful moment. It was one of those times when I knew this was an incredible athletic accomplishment for me. It was one of my proudest moments.
Another one of those prize moments was being on the starting line of the London 2012 games. Two of my direct competitors were women whom I had been mentoring for quite some time – a young girl Jessica from Bermuda and Anita from Ghana. This experience proved that my platform was not just about being a racer, but being a mentor and helping others to fulfill their mission.
4. What was your worst day as a Paralympic athlete?
I had very high expectations for how I wanted to finish my race in London. Things did not come together. After the race, it was tough having those conversations with my mentors. I asked, “Hey, what should I have done differently?” The answer was, “Nothing!” I had to process the idea that I can put forth all the effort, training, hard work, and dedication, but sometimes it just does not come together. That’s life! That’s the reality.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
I come back to my motto, “Dream. Drive. Do.” It’s about that drive. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of a lot of doubters and naysayers in my life. That’s what the drive is all about – taking that cloud of doubt and using it to fuel my fire and drive me forward instead of allowing myself to be discouraged. It’s a conscious decision to reframe negative experiences and look for that positive purpose. You can always find a positive. You might have to look really hard, but you can always find it.
I’ve had to ask, “How do I live my life and how can I help others?” That’s what it comes down to – having a dream or vision and the drive to accomplish that dream. So I would say, “You are always going to have obstacles. There are always going to be doubters. There are always going to be those challenging times.” But it’s about reframing those times and using them to drive forward. It’s about being out there accomplishing your goals. It’s not just about sitting around and talking, but taking the risk and putting yourself in a position to do whatever it is you have set your mind to do.
Every single one of us is going to have dreams. We are also going to face adversity. For myself it was about having adversity on multiple fronts because of my disability. But it’s also about finding that mentor and holding on to your dreams and having that confidence to believe in yourself that you can make it – and you can!