“This medal is HEAVY!” Jarrel* said to Paralympian Nichole Millage before adding, “I never would have thought the medals would all be so different.”
Recently, Jarrel and his classmates in Cunningham Children’s Home’s Gerber Education Program were treated to an inspiring visit from USA Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Team gold medalist Nichole Millage and the energy from classroom to classroom was contagious. Nichole is a close friend of Gerber teacher Ms. Lynnsey. She, like many of our youth, has endured difficult times in her life and was excited to provide hope to our kids by sharing her own experiences.
Our residential youth celebrated the spirit of the Tokyo Olympic games this summer in Vacation Bible School and in a series of challenges coordinated by the Special Therapies team, but many were learning about the Paralympics for the first time. Meeting Nicole was a great educational opportunity to introduce them to something new and to meet and hear from an athlete who has competed at the highest level.
The visit started with a Zoom session on the Smart Board in all Gerber classrooms at the Noel Education Center. Nichole explained what the Paralympics are and how she got involved and became a member of the USA Women’s National Sitting Volleyball team. She also talked about the adversity she faced when she became an amputee after a 1998 boating accident. When the students had the chance to ask Nichole questions, several wanted to hear about what her emotions were and how she got through such a challenging and difficult time.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Nicole said. “There were some really dark days where I was sad, frustrated, angry and wanted to give up. But my family and friends really rallied around me to keep me going and motivated. When you are going through hard times, lean on the support you have around you.”
Nicole also took the opportunity to talk about the importance of sportsmanship at every level of sport. She shared about her changing role on the team between the Rio and Tokyo Paralympic games as new teammates started to get more playing time.
“It was challenging when you want to be out there but cheering and supporting from the sidelines is just as important,” Nichole said. “Sometimes you can see things from your perspective that are hard for others to see when they are on the court. You can help give your team an advantage by observing and being encouraging.”
That statement seemed to especially resonate with Micah*, another of our young boys, who said, “That is really good advice. I’m going to work on getting better and cheering my teammates on.”
Nicole concluded her visit by stopping in every classroom. She was gracious in not only sharing her experiences, but also letting youth and staff touch and hold her four Paralympic medals. Jarrel was so excited to meet Nichole personally and was not shy to share his admiration.
“You inspire me!” he said. “Thanks for coming to visit with us.”
*Our stories are real but names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth.