More than 20 athletes are getting ready to head to Ireland to represent the USA at the 2018 IWAS Youth Games.
Sometimes, a little peer pressure can be a good thing.
Just ask 17-year-old Mikayla Chandler, one of 29 athletes headed to Ireland this summer to represent the United States at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Youth Games in Athlone.
Heading into her freshman year at Old Rochester Regional High School, about an hour south of Boston, Chandler, who was diagnosed with achondroplasia at birth, was excited to continue an athletic career that had begun in the same fashion as her older sister Rachael’s – her parents, Ray and Michelle, signed her up for sports ranging from dance to soccer at the age of five.
“Although life at four-foot-two can face many challenges, my parents never let my disability be an excuse for not joining sports,” Chandler said.
She was confident in her plan to play field hockey in the fall and lacrosse in the spring for her high school – until Josh Winsper had something to say about it.
Winsper, now 20 years old and readying to compete in Ireland alongside Chandler, was a senior on Old Rochester’s track and field teams. Winsper, who was also born with achondroplasia, urged Chandler to join him, since she wasn’t playing a winter sport.
“[Winsper] believed that I could accomplish great things like he had done throughout his high school career,” Chandler remembered. She ended up quitting field hockey and lacrosse to focus on track, a decision she said was difficult, but worth it. “I went to my first practice during Christmas vacation and ended up loving it.”
Chandler loved track and field, and the sport loved her back. With personal bests of 20 feet, seven inches in shot put and 45 feet in discus, the native of Marion, Massachusetts, a small coastal town, was named a U.S. Paralympic Track and Field High School All-American in shot put and discus during her freshman and sophomore years. Last season, her hometown newspaper, the Standard Times, honored her with its annual Courage Award and she earned a spot on its’ Girls Winter Track Super Team.
Her performance at the high school level, which has earned Chandler bids to Massachusetts Divisional and All-State meets, where she is the only disabled female track athlete that competes, has also translated to national and international success. She was selected to attend the Desert Challenge Games in Tempe, Arizona last May, where she competed against Paralympians and other athletes more than twice her age and threw for the USA at the 2017 World Dwarf Games in Guelph, Canada.
“During the opening ceremonies I felt a sense of pride walking down the track with my team, dressed in my full USA gear,” she said of the World Dwarf Games. “I got chills hearing all the fans in the crowd cheering, clapping and waving around American flags. It was incredible to be able to meet and compete with so many dwarf athletes from all around the world. It was an unforgettable experience. I’m excited that I have another opportunity to represent the red, white and blue at the international level.”
After she returns from Ireland, where she will be the only female dwarf representing the U.S., Chandler will begin to look ahead to her senior year of high school and the future. She hopes to compete in track and field at the collegiate level and major in something related to the health and medical fields while keeping her eyes on the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, which she calls her “biggest dream.”
“I love that I can show others you can do anything you put your mind to and that nothing should stop you from doing what you enjoy,” she said. “Every time I step on the podium to receive my medals, I hope that others can see that even though I have a disability, I work just as hard as the other girls on the stand with me, just in a different way.”