Lifetime of Opportunities

Amanda Malawski talks about appreciation for her disability, how she mentally prepares for a competition and competing at IWAS.


Online Exclusive posted Friday, June 22, 2018 – 10:28am

The word “disability” may bring sadness to some, but to 18-year-old Amanda Malawski, it brings a lifetime of opportunities. Malawski has traveled the world, tried new activities and met some of her idols because of her disability.

Amanda Malawski competes in the 2018 Desert Challenge Games in Tempe, Ariz. (Photo by Courtney Cooper)

“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world, because my disability has given me a lifetime of opportunities,” says Malawski. “I’ve gotten to scuba dive and travel internationally because of my disability. A lot of times people ask me if I would ever not want to be disabled, and I’ve always said no because I have so many opportunities that kids that aren’t disabled haven’t experienced. Having my disability is a part of me, but it doesn’t define who I am.”

Malawski was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and hemiplegia to the right side of her body. The unique aspect of her case is that her twin brother was born with the same conditions to the left side of his body. Her right arm is significantly shorter than her left, same with her brother but with the opposite side of his body. Growing up with a twin brother who also had CP made it easier for Malawski.

“We’ve kind of relied on each other and we really relate to each other at school,” she says. “There are some kids with physical disabilities at our school, but we’re the only ones that truly know what it’s like to have the same kind of CP. We’re really lucky because we can both walk, and we are super independent. We don’t really have to rely on anybody but ourselves and whenever we are struggling with our CP, or someone is teasing us because of our disability, we always know that we have each other’s backs because we are the only ones that can relate to each other.”

The Sugar Grove, Ill. native will be heading to her fourth international competition this summer at the International Wheelchair and Amputee (IWAS) Games where she will be representing Team USA and competing in track and field. Malawski got into sports at a young age and instantly fell in love. She has played soccer, swimming, cross country and track and field. Sports was a therapy method for Malawski, and eventually being so active in sports took over for her regular therapy trips.

“The more involved I got with sports, the less I had to go to therapy because I did so many sports at the same time,” she says.

Malawski is currently on her high school track and field team where she competes against able-bodied athletes. She has always had good experiences competing, but sometimes she runs into challenges with people not understanding her disability.

Amanda Malawski with her twin brother. Photo courtesy of Malawski

“A lot of the officials don’t understand why I need certain things to help me run,” she says. “When I do block starts, I have to use a prop to help me push off on the blocks because my right arm is so significantly shorter than my left arm, and it helps me put pressure on both arms instead of having to put pressure on just my left arm. I’m able to use it at track meets, so it’s just having to educate people is a little difficult but once people get to know me they know that I’m a tough competitor and I love doing what I do. So, getting to educate people is important because they don’t really know what it’s like to have someone with a disability on the team.”

Malawski will continue to use her high school season as training for her major competitions this summer. Other than IWAS, she will be competing at the Desert Challenge Games and the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) regional meet. During high school season, Malawski doesn’t stress about winning.

“My high school track season helps keep me in shape,” she says. “A lot of high school students stress out about the track season with how they’re doing, but for me it’s mostly just focusing on how I’m training and how I’m progressing into my Paralympic season. I have to stay in shape and stay on top of my game going into the summer season.”

Competing against top athletes from all over the world can get quite nerve racking for Malawski, but she never lets that get to her. Before a competition, she always reminds herself to do her best no matter what. Another thing she likes to do is talk to the other athletes and wish them luck.

“I’ll just talk to the other athletes,” she says. “Even if they don’t speak English, we kind of try and communicate as much as possible. I usually wish the other athletes good luck because even though we are competing against each other, we are still rooting for each other. You just kind of have to relax and have fun while doing it, I think that’s super important because if you’re not having fun while doing it then what’s the point of even doing it?”

Malawski is determined to make the Paralympic team for Tokyo 2020. Over the years she has watched and looked up to Paralympian Tatyana McFadden, which has really inspired her Paralympic dream.

“[Tatyana McFadden] has gone through so much adversity when she was a child and especially through the past couple of years,” she says. “She’s been dealing with stuff medically, and yet she still pushes through it. I really admire her for pushing through.”


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