This week David Hirsch talks with fellow Illini Adam Bleakney, head coach of the wheelchair track program, which is part of the Division Of Disability Resources & Educational Services in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
We also meet: Amanda McGrory and Brian Siemann, two University of Illinois graduates who were part of the wheelchair track team and who have both competed in numerous international Paralympic events.
You’ll learn about their backstories, what brought them to the world of adaptive athletics at UofI, as well as how their university experience has allowed them to prosper, find meaningful employment, to compete at the highest levels internationally and to see the world.
It’s an amazing trio of stories that you’ll hear on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast.
University of Illinois Adaptive Athletics Programs – https://www.disability.illinois.edu
Adam – https://www.linkedin.com/in/adam-bleakney-4ba61421/
Amanda – https://www.linkedin.com/in/amanda-mcgrory/
Email Addresses –
Adam – email@example.com
Amanda – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian – email@example.com
Transverse Myelitis – https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7796/transverse-myelitis
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at horizontherapeutics.com.
Brian Siemann: To compete on a stage, not only just the Paralympic stage in general, but then in a sold out stadium, truly is something that I will never forget—hearing the stadium roar as I was racing the 100.
Adam Bleakney: When I had a spinal cord injury, that was always my window that I looked through. My frame of reference is, this is what it is, but let’s look and see what the opportunities are, and there’s been a lot.
Brian Siemann: Yeah. So I applied to University of Illinois, and when I got my offer of admission, I accepted the offer of admission without even telling my parents. Because I knew that there was no other school. That was it. As soon as I got in, that’s where I was going.
Amanda McGrory: The goal of the program is not just to create great athletes. It is to create great people who really contribute to the sport and to the movement.
Tom Couch: Two student Paralympic champions and their coach, all participants in the University of Illinois Adaptive Sports program, one of the most advanced programs of its type. We’ll hear the stories of these three amazing people and how they’ve overcome and succeeded in their lives and the Paralympics. It’s an amazing trio of stories you’ll hear right now on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello to host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: So let’s hear these stories now as David Hirsch talks to Adam Bleakney, Amanda McGrory, and Brian Siemann.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with three fellow Illini friends associated with the Adaptive Athletics Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign: Adam Bleakney, head coach of Wheelchair Track and Road Racing, and a 2002 UIUC alum, Amanda McGrory, an archivist and collections curator for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and a 2010 as well as 2018 UIUC alum, and Brian Siemann, a learning disabilities and ADHD specialist at University of Illinois, as well as a 2008 UIUC alum.
Adam, Amanda and Brian, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network. So for the first set of questions, I’m going to go round robin, starting with Adam. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family, Adam.
Adam Bleakney: Yeah, sure. So I grew up in north central Iowa, Mason City, Iowa, to be exact. I grew up with an older brother, mom and dad. And when I think back of growing up, it was primarily about sport and competing. That was a big part of my life as far back as I can remember.
And a big part of that, a big influence in that, was my dad. And that was one way that we grew up and spent a lot of time together. He had been a standout athlete, both a high school and collegiate athlete. And so that interest and that passion he passed on to me, primarily in wrestling. That was his sport of choice. But in addition to that, baseball.
And many of my formative years were spent with him either on baseball trips or wrestling trips. And he coached me in both sports, all the way up through high school. So I think, just as far as all the values that I learned, and as I say, a lot of those formative experiences and learning experiences came through athletics.
David Hirsch: Excellent. I’m sort of curious to know, Adam, what did your dad do for a living?
Adam Bleakney: My dad worked in the ag business. He was a loan officer for 40 plus years. We come from a farming family and farming background. He grew up on a farm, as did my mom. And so that was in his blood, and although he didn’t take the family farm, his older brother did, this was one way he could keep his feet in the water.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So was there an important lesson or takeaway that comes to mind from your dad?
Adam Bleakney: I think my dad was always very positive, very intense, but never in a way that placed any undue expectation on me. It was rather, I think, a prodding, an expectation that you’re going to work each day to move toward a goal and reach your personal capacity.
And so you become shaped by the environment you grew up in. Both my dad and my mom were very driven, and expected a lot of themselves. And by extension, I expected a lot of myself as well.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, thanks for sharing. Your dad was super involved. That’s what I heard you saying, coaching your sports. He created an air of excellence or expectations he held himself to, and perhaps rubbed off on you and your older brother.
So I’m sort of curious to know what the nature of your disability is and how did it come about?
Adam Bleakney: Yeah. I have a spinal cord injury. It was a result of a mountain biking accident when I was 19, so between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I was out in Colorado, in Breckenridge, on vacation with a buddy. And I went down the mountain too fast, beyond what a flatlander from Iowa could handle. And I hit a tree and flipped over, and that was that. That was that. So that’s been a few years ago now.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, thanks for sharing. And just to be clear, as a result, you’re paraplegic, right?
Adam Bleakney: Yep. So I’m a full-time wheelchair user for mobility.
David Hirsch: Gotcha. Great, thank you. So I’m sort of curious to know how your career transpired since you got your degree or degrees at U of I. Because it doesn’t sound like you ever left.
Adam Bleakney: Yeah. Well, I did for two years. After I finished grad school, I worked for a community organization in Atlanta, with the job of being a liaison between this national office and different satellite programs around the country, just helping them to develop and run wheelchair sports programs.
And so I did that for a couple years. And then the coach, Marty Morris—who been here for 20 plus years and had been my coach, and who had been very, very influential in the direction my life—retired, and I was fortunate enough to get the job offer. But you’re right, since 1997, I’ve spent most of my life in the same zip code.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, thanks for sharing. And one last question. As far as background is concerned, I’m sort of curious to know, what’s been your greatest challenge as well as accomplishments?
Adam Bleakney: I think my greatest accomplishments, it’s easy. It’s having two awesome kids. I have a freshman in high school and I have a sixth grader in middle school. Hands down, of anything that I’ve done, it’s creating these two awesome kids. That’s the best.
David Hirsch: But I thought you were going to lead with saying that was your greatest challenge as well.
Adam Bleakney: That’s true. You’re right. Raising kids is definitely a significant responsibility and a huge challenge. But I’ve always had the attitude that your response is controlled and your perception of the circumstances is controlled, and you can define any situation as being a challenge or as an opportunity.
Not that it’s all rainbows and sunshine, because there certainly are things that are more difficult than other things. But I think that it’s that autonomy and independence of choosing your attitude toward any situation that manipulates and twists those challenges. What opportunity can you pull out of those?
David Hirsch: That’s an important insight, though. Because you can think about it: is it a challenge or is it an opportunity—and it’s one and the same. Right? And if you have the right attitude, I think you can take whatever the situation is and try to make the most of it. That’s what I heard you say.
Adam Bleakney: Yeah. I think so. I think that when I had spinal cord injury, that was always my window that I looked through. My frame reference was always that this is what it is, but let’s look and see what the opportunities are. And there’s been a lot, and it’s been incredibly enriching and with a lot of value points in my life, directly as a consequence of that event. And so I guess that’s an example of something that could be considered to be a challenge. But if you apply what I think is the appropriate frame, then it can be also an opportunity to have had that experience.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, thank you for sharing. Okay, Amanda, it’s your turn. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Amanda McGrory: I grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania in a little town called Kennett Square, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I am the oldest of three, and I have an absolutely enormous extended family. My dad’s one of six, my mom’s one of seven, and almost everyone, so like 300, 350 family members, still live within a few hours of that Philadelphia area. I’m the black sheep that keeps moving further and further west. I’m in Colorado right now.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I’m sort of curious, what did your dad do for living, and how would you describe your relationship with him?
Amanda McGrory: My dad’s self-employed. He owns a small business. He does custom countertops and kitchen renovations for residential as well as commercial properties.
And if I had to describe my dad, I would say he is and was notoriously rebellious and pretty hell-bent on finding his own path, forging his own path. He went to Catholic school, and the uniform rule was you had to wear a shirt and tie. So he wore Hawaiian shirts with plaid ties and plaid jackets. Like that’s just who my dad is.
And he’s always been very, very supportive and very encouraging of me finding my way, figuring out what I wanted to do, and supporting me with whatever that journey looked like. He also had bright red, curly hair, so the whole combination was a little bit of a color explosion.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. So I’m sort of curious to know, was there an important lesson or takeaway that comes to mind when you think about your dad?
Amanda McGrory: So kind of jumping back to him forging his own path, I think that that was really important. Seeing him take risks and trust in himself and think outside the box, I think was really, really valuable to me.
I have taken a pretty non-traditional career path, starting with going to college, being a professional athlete for six or seven years, going back to grad school in my thirties, and then ending up in the position that I am in here. But I have had nothing but support from my dad and from both of my parents the whole way through.
When I graduated from undergrad and was talking about being a professional wheelchair marathoner, it wasn’t, “That’s ridiculous. You can’t do that.” It was more like, “Okay, well let’s figure this out and see if it’s a possibility. We’ll talk about the plans, talk about what you can do, and figure out how we can make this work. And then if you can’t, then we’ll look at what your other options are.”
And I think knowing that I had that support from him and from my mom kind of gave me the confidence and the courage to take some of those risks and see what happens.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So I’m sort of curious to know, what is the nature of your disability and how did it come about?
Amanda McGrory: So I am diagnosed with transverse myelitis. It’s a rare neuro immune disorder that affects somewhere between one and five to one in 20 million people. It manifests itself similarly to MS. It’s a demyelinating disorder. So the basic story, an external factor caused my immune system to get confused. It attacked my spinal cord, demyelinated the nerve cells there, which prevents nerve signals from passing from my brain down to my lower body. And I’m a complete paraplegic as a result.
David Hirsch: Wow. So at what age did that happen?
Amanda McGrory: I was five. It happened in 1991. So I was a kindergartner.
David Hirsch: Wow. That must have been overwhelming for you, as well as your parents for that matter.
Amanda McGrory: I would absolutely say so. It was difficult for me understanding what happened. Unlike an injury like Adam’s crash into a tree, where there’s a distinct cause of what happened, for me, I woke up one day and couldn’t walk. I mean, that’s difficult for anyone to understand, but as a five-year-old, it was really, really confusing for me, and I didn’t understand why that day was different than any other day. And it was scary, because I now didn’t know what was going to happen when I woke up tomorrow or two days or three weeks later.
For my parents, they were both really young. My mom was 29 and my dad was 31. And looking back to me as a 29-year-old or a 31-year-old, I can’t imagine how terrifying that would’ve been.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for mentioning that. So you made reference to your education. I’m sort of curious to know, what led you to the University of Illinois?
Amanda McGrory: For me, it was sports. I started racing and playing basketball in 1997 when I was 11. My parents were very interested in finding a way for me to remain active. I was really active as a kid, played outside, ran around, loved to ride my bike. And that all changed when I came home from the hospital and was a wheelchair user. So I was having a hard time figuring out where I fit in with some of my friends from school, what I could still do.
And they thought that it would be a great opportunity for me to be active, and also to find a community of other kids with disabilities, if I started participating in sports. So it was pre-internet days, and they searched and researched, and it took a really long time to find anything. But it just so happened that the city of Philadelphia was starting a kids’ adaptive sports program the summer of 1997. They were going to do wheelchair basketball and wheelchair racing.
So I started then, it turned out that I was little and I was fast and I had some natural talent when it came to both of them. And as a kid you always like doing things that you are good at, and so I quickly fell in love with both of them. It was really fortunate that my dad, being self-employed and having his own business, had a lot of freedom and was able to take time off to drive me an hour, an hour and a half, into the city. He took Fridays off and Mondays off so we could go on weekend trips to basketball tournaments and to races, to leave work early, to take me to practice after school.
And the older I got, the more serious I got. I wasn’t going to go to a school where I couldn’t participate in sports. As far as programs that had both wheelchair racing and wheelchair basketball, there’s nothing that beats the University of Illinois with its legacy and the procedure of that program.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, it seems like that was your destiny to go to University of Illinois in Champaign then. So, were there any mentors that come to mind, either from your growing up years or your university years?
Amanda McGrory: So obviously my parents were huge, huge influences on me, supporting the choices that I made, encouraging me to think outside the box and to take some risks and to really challenge myself and push myself.
The spring of my freshman year is actually when Adam came in as a coach. And I don’t like to tell him that he was very influential on my career and who I am, but he definitely, definitely was. I ended up switching over from wheelchair basketball to focusing more on wheelchair racing after Adam and another U of I alum bribed me into doing a marathon. So that really changed the course of my entire future and my entire athletic career.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well let’s go into that story, because I remember you sharing with me before. I thought it was pretty entertaining.
Amanda McGrory: So I recently learned that the story I was told and all of the facts about this were not correct. But Adam and another very successful wheelchair racer in U of I, Scott Hollenbeck, convinced me that in order to attend an elite wheelchair racing camp in Georgia, I would have to also participate in the Colfax Marathon, and turn over any prize money I was lucky enough to win to cover the expense of bringing me, a lowly sophomore who was not nearly fast enough to attend this camp, to the camp.
And I so went to the camp, had a great experience, thought that maybe I was going to get off the hook. Sure enough, got a call that it was time for me to sign up for the Colfax Marathon. I flew out to Colorado, did my very first marathon, finished in just over two hours, which was third place. I was like, “Okay, well I have this experience. I did a marathon. I’m going to check it off the bucket list, and now I’m done.” I wasn’t really sure I ever wanted to do another one.
And then three weeks later they teamed up on me again to do my second marathon, in which they promised that I could keep any prize money I won, which was much too tempting of an offer as a 20 year old college student on a very limited budget. So that is the story of how my marathon career began. And I’m now 15 years in and probably close to, if not over, a hundred marathons at this point.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh. And what’s your best time, out of curiosity?
Amanda McGrory: My best time? It was at the Boston Marathon, which had a tailwind, and it’s a really fast course for wheelchair athletes because it’s a net downhill. So I’m not sure. It might be cheating, but my best time is an hour and 33 minutes.
David Hirsch: Oh my god. It sounds like an inhuman possibility. Is this a motorized chair, or just self-propelled?
Amanda McGrory: Just a really, really good tailwind. And I don’t weigh very much, so I just kind of got pushed along.
David Hirsch: It sounds like you might have had a style or something on your shirt. Okay, well thanks for sharing. Very inspiring, very funny story. So, how has your career transpired, since you graduated undergrad and then beyond?
Amanda McGrory: So after graduating undergrad, like I said, I wasn’t really sure who I was yet, what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I remember having a talk with Adam about how I was really frustrated with my performance. And I felt like I was doing all the right things, I was showing up to training, but I wasn’t hitting the times or the speeds I wanted to hit. And racing the way that I was, I knew that I wasn’t going to be medal potential.
We talked about what we could do, and so I changed a whole bunch of things—changed my equipment up, changed my diet. But the biggest change that we made was going back to school. Adam strongly believes the research says student athletes perform better.
And so for me, being overly focused on my training wasn’t a good thing for me. I never had a break from it. I was just focused 100% on training all day, every day. If I had a bad practice, I was thinking about that until I got up and showed up at practice the next morning.
So it was a huge, huge thing for me to go back to school and have something else to work on and break up my day a little bit. So I entered the master’s program for library and information science, with the goal of hopefully coming out of it as an archivist.
I learned about the archives at the US Olympic and Paralympic committee while I was in school, and I applied for an internship there as soon as I graduated. I was lucky enough to get the internship, which was pretty fantastic, because it felt like the perfect marrying of my personal and professional interests.
So I finished that internship, moved back to Champaign, and was training for the Tokyo Games. And with the delay of the Games, the archivist that I interned under announced her retirement and the job position was posted. So as a long shot, I applied, and was lucky enough to get hired as the director of the archives and the collections curator in July of last year.
So I made the move out to Colorado, had another big talk with Adam about what that was going to look like for my racing career, and decided that this was too good of an opportunity for me to turn down.
David Hirsch: That’s a fabulous story, and congratulations on sort of reeducating yourself and then finding what sounds like a dream job, given your life’s journey and your experience. So one last question. What has been your greatest challenge, and what would you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Amanda McGrory: For me, it was definitely figuring out who I was and who I am and what my place is in this world. So coming out of rehab as a five-year-old who was a wheelchair user, whose whole world had changed, kids are resilient, but it’s still difficult and it’s still a hard transition.
And I think that with the support of my parents, the support of my dad, helping me find sports and find that community, encouraging me to be independent and take a risk and move to Illinois and try out being a professional athlete, to go back to grad school and figure out how I was going to work and pay for that on my own, and then accept this position and move to Colorado in the middle of a pandemic all by myself—that’s it. Those were the big challenges, and those are the big accomplishments.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Well, thanks for sharing your enlightening story. Okay, Brian, it’s your turn. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Brian Siemann: I grew up in Millstone, New Jersey. I was born in Brooklyn, because my parents were both born there, but we lived in New Jersey and so that’s where I grew up.
Something about my family. So I am a quadruplet. I am one of four, three girls and myself. I also have an older brother as well, John, who’s four years older. So that’s always kind of my fun familial fact is that I’m a quadruplet.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, there’s not that many of you out there.
Brian Siemann: No, no. I’ve met a bunch of twins and some triplets. I’ve never met a quadruplet or more than a quad, so it’s always kind of my one…. As soon as I do, I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that, because my sisters and I always joke that we’ve never met another set of quads or higher order multiples.
David Hirsch: Well, I think I shared with you, one of my good friends from undergrad at University of Illinois got married to another U of I person. They had a daughter, had trouble having children and then had four, three girls and a boy, coincidentally just like you. And all four of the quads ended up going to the University of Illinois as well.
Now they graduated about eight years ago. And if it’s meant to be, I’ll have to introduce you to my friends, John and Helen Madden, the ones with the quadruplets.
Brian Siemann: That’d be awesome. My sisters and I made a conscious choice to not….we weren’t allowed to apply to the same schools. And my journey to Illinois sort of is different from theirs. But yeah, that was the one rule: we weren’t allowed to apply to the same schools.
David Hirsch: Very interesting. We’ll have to dig into that. So, out of curiosity, what does your dad do for a living?
Brian Siemann: My dad is now retired, but for, oh gosh, over 25 years, he worked in New York in proxy solicitation and corporate governance. His career trajectory to get to that, he’s sort of done it all. He’s kind of a jack of all trades in terms of his entire life. While he was in school, he went to Fordham and got his bachelor’s in history. He got his master’s and PhD in history as well from Columbia.
But in that interim, he’s been a bartender. He was an umpire for a baseball team. He played softball. He was a football coach. He’s kind of done it all. And then he wound up at this firm doing proxy solicitation and sort of engaging with people and things like that.
And so his story is one that’s really fascinating. And there are stories that probably can’t be discussed publicly with some of the things that he’s done. It’s kind of fun to listen to him and hear his story about how he grew up.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Is there an important takeaway, a lesson that comes to mind, when you think about your dad?
Brian Siemann: I think for my dad, especially given everything he’s done in his life, something he’s always tried to instill in us is to pursue our passion, to work towards that, and to take that time and think about what’s important to you and to pursue it again.
His trajectory to his career and even meeting my mom, and then having children, was not typical and not normal. And so with all of us, it was find what you love and really pursue it. And at the end of the day, by pursuing what we were passionate about, we’d be happy. And that’s all he really wanted for us.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So I’m sort of curious to know what’s the nature of your disability and how did it come about?
Brian Siemann: Yeah. So I also have spinal cord injury like Adam. As I mentioned, I’m a quadruplet, so there were four of us in the womb at the same time. And so we were about two months premature.
But for all intents and purposes, when we were delivered, we were as healthy as you could be for being two months premature. There were no real complications. I was the heaviest of my sisters at two pounds. But we were small. And then when I was six days old, my doctor left what’s called my umbilical catheter open by mistake, which caused me to lose a third of the blood in my body, which caused spinal shock and then paralyzed me.
So at that point, the spinal shock paralyzed me. I have a spinal cord injury now as a result. So even though I technically have an acquired injury, I’ve spent my entire life using some kind of mobility device, whether it was leg braces and or a walker, and now just a full-time wheelchair user.
David Hirsch: Wow. So unlike Amanda, you didn’t really know anything different, right?
Brian Siemann: No. And it was weird. If you were to talk to my parents, they would always say that I never viewed myself as having a disability. And I never really interacted with anyone that was disabled until I started doing sports in high school. Yeah. I’ve essentially grown up using a wheelchair.
David Hirsch: Gotcha. So I’m sort of curious to know, how did your education lead to the University of Illinois?
Brian Siemann: Sports led me to the University of Illinois. I was not involved in sports until high school. Since my dad actually had played baseball and really liked baseball, they found a baseball team that I could join that was called the Friends of Handicapped Children. Adam loves the story. There’s a great picture of me in a baseball uniform. On my first day of high school, my high school track coach at the time asked me if I used my wheelchair permanently, or if I just had a broken leg.
When I told him that I was in the chair permanently, he was like, “Oh, cool. Well, do you want to come out for the track team?” And I kind of looked at him like, “I just told you I can’t walk. How am I going to do a running sport?” He said, “Yeah, no, no. I’ve seen other kids in wheelchairs at our high school state meet. Is this something you’d want to try?”
And I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I don’t like confrontation, I don’t like saying no to things. I’ll make myself uncomfortable before putting myself in an awkward situation. So I said yes, not knowing what I was doing.
My high school actually raised money for my first racing chair. They found a local sports team up in northern New Jersey where they were able to measure me for my first racing chair and sort of teach me the mechanics of wheelchair racing. But once I actually got the racing chair, I did a majority of my training in my high school team.
My plan was wheelchair racing was something that I was going to do maybe for a year or two, and I was going to be a teacher. I had my whole life planned out. I was going to go to college in New Jersey, get my teaching degree, teach in New Jersey, and that was that.
But as I started racing more, and you would go to these junior national meets and things like that, everyone kept mentioning University of Illinois. Illinois is like something you always hear. In my head, being from New Jersey, I was like, why would anyone ever want to go to Illinois? There was nothing out there.
David Hirsch: There’s a lot of cornfields.
Brian Siemann: Yeah, there’s corn, but there’s no beaches, there’s no bagels, there’s no pizza. Like all of the things that I loved as a non-athlete, I just loved pizza and bagels and video games and everything. There was no reason for me to ever consider going to Illinois.
But I kept hearing it enough, and I started to get decent at wheelchair racing. Adam every summer would have a sports camp for high schoolers and younger kids with disabilities to do wheelchair racing. And so I went, I think it was my sophomore year. I came out there to just learn from the best, to go to Illinois.
And I got on this campus, and I fell in love with everything about it. I got to meet some of my idols, like Amanda McGrory and Josh George and some other really just incredible wheelchair athletes. The campus itself is gorgeous. I remember leaving there and saying, “This is where I want to go to school.”
So that is what my focus became the next two years: to get Adam to like me enough to recruit me. He vividly remembers me meeting him, and me going up to him and annoying him about the school.
So I applied to University of Illinois. And actually, when I got my offer of admission, I accepted the offer of admission without even telling my parents. Because I knew that there was just no other school. That was it. As soon as I got in, that’s where I was going. So yeah, that’s how I ended up here.
David Hirsch: Adam, can you corroborate that story?
Adam Bleakney: Yeah, yeah. I have a vivid recollection of places we may have met, somewhere between California and New Jersey. One of those.
Amanda McGrory: Adam also doesn’t remember meeting me.
Brian Siemann: It’s just rude. It’s so rude. I was such a prominent personality. I had to work up the courage to talk to the Adam Bleakney, and he doesn’t even remember where we met. It was Spokane, Washington.
Adam Bleakney: See, I named that state. Cause that’s between…
David Hirsch: They’re hazing you, Adam. I love it.
Okay, Brian. I’m sort of curious to know, what was it like being a student athlete there at the University of Illinois, and what type of degrees did you take?
Brian Siemann Yeah. Being a student athlete at the University of Illinois was something that, like Amanda had said, took a little bit of adjusting when I first got here. One, this was the first time I had been away from home, and Illinois is significantly far away from home. I didn’t have my support system with my siblings as well. We had spent our entire academic career up to college all in the same classes, having that connection.
And so, yeah, it took a little bit of adjusting. I’m a very academic person by nature though, and athletics has always sort of been something I’ve had to work very hard towards. So for me, it was more figuring it out. The school side of things was not particularly challenging for me, because that was where my head was geared towards. When I got here, the goal was still to get a degree. That was kind of the expectation. You know, my sisters were all in school. My brother had just gotten into law school, and so we were…academics are something that’s sort of heavily emphasized in my family.
So that was my main goal. And on the athletic side of things, the goal was to make a Paralympic team. But it was sort of like, “I’ll be here and I will do the whole school thing, and work towards that. And if it happens, great, but I’m here to get a degree.”
But yeah, as I got more comfortable here, in terms of finding my place, my friends, and that balance, I was able to create a system where I could prioritize both athletics and academics and succeed in both.
When I came to the university in 2008, I still wanted to be a teacher, and so my degree was in English and secondary education. That took me through the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, which was the first Paralympic team I ever made. And so that sort of checked off that box of, oh, I made a Paralympic team. That was the goal. I also have a degree.
But I left the 2012 games feeling like there was more that I could accomplish with the sport. And with conversations with Adam helping me realize that there was potential there, in terms of athletics, it was like, “Okay, I want to continue to see what I can do on the athletic side of things.”
I knew that I didn’t want to just be focusing on athletics, so then I decided to enroll in a master’s program in special education as well. Because I figured if I’m here training and I know I want to be a teacher, I should try to get an additional degree and have the skills that I can use, so once I’m done racing, I’m going to be able to transfer pretty seamlessly into the work world.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So were there some mentors, either in your youth or in your collegiate experience, that come to mind?
Brian Siemann: Yeah. I think family obviously kind of goes without saying. My sisters and I, I think just the bond of the four of us being so close and going through life at the exact same stages, we all rely on each other and look up to each other.
I got here back in 2008, and Adam has become someone that I know I can always go to when I have some sort of issue, or just someone to talk to. His insight and philosophy towards life I respect a lot, and it’s really nice to know that throughout all of the major moments in my life since I’ve come to Illinois, he has been a constant source of guidance and just wisdom that has really helped me get to where I am today.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So, what’s been your greatest challenge as well as accomplishment?
Brian Siemann: You would think that by now, as the third person, I would have a really good answer, like a definitive, tangible answer here for this. I think I will echo the sentiments of Amanda and Adam in the perception of obstacles, and how we can also view them as accomplishments.
I guess on a more personal sort of challenge, I think the transition from high school to college, and that transition to learning to be an adult, is something that’s particularly challenging for any individual, but especially an individual with a disability, navigating the world that really is not accessible and does not lend itself to disability and access.
And so that has been a challenge, but again, it’s all about perception and how you view those challenges as you face them. And so when you look at a barrier to access or things like that, it’s seeing, “How can we solve this problem? How can we make it accessible, and not let the obstacle get in the way of what you’re trying to achieve.”
David Hirsch: So let’s switch gears, and I’d like to talk about the adaptive athletics program at the University of Illinois, and the history of adaptive athletics for that matter. And I’m wondering—maybe we’ll start with Adam, since you’re the more seasoned person of the group—what’s the backstory? How did adaptive athletics start at the University of Illinois, and what was going on in the country at that time?
Adam Bleakney: Yeah, so the local American Legion in 1947 proposed to the president of Illinois this idea of creating a program, really an experiment, to educate veterans returning from World War II that had mobility impairment, or wheelchair users, paraplegics.
And that was approved as an initiative, but very novel. I’ll say that it was very much novel. The idea that you would spend state resources on someone with a physical disability was such an alien concept, because why would you waste good money that could be used on someone without a physical disability, who could then become an active and gainful member of the economy and society?
So it was a risk. And I’ll say too that prior to the mid forties, the advent of prescriptions that could extend the lifespan of individuals with physical disability, the prospects weren’t all that great in terms of longevity and quality of life.
And so it really was the genesis of, not just our program, but programs and opportunities across the world. Because there really was no need for anything of this nature prior to it for individuals that had traumatic spinal cord injuries.
And so 1948, the program started on the campus in Galesburg, Illinois. And they didn’t get too comfortable though, because ultimately they were able to gain a foothold on the Champaign campus. The Champaign Urbana Campus agreed to take on…I think there were 12 or 14 students who were promised two years of education. So they said, “Well, we promised that education for you, so we’ll….”
Amanda McGrory: It’s 22.
Adam Bleakney: 22. Thank you.
David Hirsch: That’s why we have an archivist in our midst.
Adam Bleakney: I know. I need that. So in 1949 we moved to Champaign Urbana in a tar paper shack, just across the street from our current premises. And we’ve been here since
From the beginning stages, athletics will see both as a method of therapy—so therapeutic and rehabilitative—but also as an opportunity to change perceptions of individuals who were wheelchair users by the broader society. But also an understanding of the overall health and wellness and emotional psyche of the individuals that were in wheelchairs.
And so from the beginning, they played wheelchair basketball, they played wheelchair football. They bowled. They did anything and everything they could do out of a wheelchair. And also they were able to be competitive, because they had these cutting edge Everest and Jennings foldable stainless steel wheelchairs, which at that time were the premium on the market, and much better than the chairs they were using in the UK that looked like La-Z-Boys on wheels, with two large front wheels and two small back wheels.
So from those beginnings, we’ve progressed through the decades. Wheelchair track, of course, was part of those early days of sport. And then I’ll fast forward 75 years to till today, and the continuation of those same principles with competitive sport. But equally this program is about education. It’s about outreach, innovation, and it’s about service and research.
But those key points are part of this program and have had a significant impact locally, across the state, across the nation and across the world. Many of the codes and standards for architectural accessibilities that were codified in the state and federal law were birthed here on this campus, whether it’s gradients done and slopes on ramps. It is a great example of an initiative that was vetted and perfected here and then adopted in state and federal law.
I think it’s one-of-a-kind unique, both for its history and what it’s done for the movement for individuals with physical disability, and I think continues to this day. And we have had student athletes like Brian and Amanda who have been incredibly, incredibly impactful on the movement and continue to be ambassadors for each of those five pillars that I referenced.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for the brief history of the adaptive athletics program at University of Illinois, which dates back to just after World War II from what you said. And you made reference to conditions there at the University of Illinois, and my recollection—and again, I graduated the better part of 40 years ago—was that the adaptive athletics program then, 40 years ago, was quite robust at the Armory, right? I can remember all these competitions going on throughout the year.
And the campus itself is probably one of the most ADA compliant campuses in the country. And I don’t think it was later on—I think it was that way at the very beginning. Maybe you have some history one of you can speak to the campus’s accessibility.
Amanda McGrory: So just to touch on the accessibility there, I have to say one of the biggest surprises to me, from living in Champaign Urbana for so long, and then moving out of that community and moving to Colorado Springs—which is also an Olympic and Paralympic city, the headquarters are here, so there’s a huge number of athletes, both non-disabled and disabled, that live and train in town—is how ingrained the disability culture is within the entire Champaign Urbana community.
It was never a question—going out to dinner, going to a new store, going to get your hair cut—whether or not that space was going to be physically accessible to a wheelchair user, because it’s just automatic. It’s been a part of the culture in that town for the past 50 years, and it continues to be that way. Every single building that gets built has ADA accommodations. There’s accessible door buttons, there’s everything that you would expect.
It was a really big surprise for me coming here, making reservations at a restaurant, or trying to get my hair cut, or going to meet a friend for drinks at a bar, to discover there’s a step or two steps, or it’s down a flight of stairs, and there’s no accessible entrance.
That’s just not something that I’ve even thought about for the past 16 years. So just a little anecdote on how impactful that is, as someone with a disability and someone who is a part of that community in town.
David Hirsch: Let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about Paralympics, because you each have a connection to the Paralympics. Brian, I’m going to let you go first. You had made reference to the fact that that was a bucket list item for you. I think that’s the way you phrased it. Was it the 2012 Games, the ones in London, that you first participated in?
Brian Siemann: Yes.
David Hirsch: So what sports did you participate in and what was your experience?
Brian Siemann: So yeah, 2012 was my first Games. I’ve since been to the 2016 Games in Rio, and then most recently the 2021 Games in Tokyo. My experience at my first Games—I think I can maybe speak for everyone as well—your first Games is something truly special and sort of different from any subsequent Games that you qualify for, in that you’re just kind of in awe of everything. The stadium and the dining hall and just sort of the village itself, and just being surrounded by some of the best athletes in the world.
My main focus events, for the London Games at least, was really the shorter distance events. So the 100, the 400 and kind of the 800, but really the…oh, and the 200, I forgot that existed back then. The one, two, and four were my main events. But I was much more of a shorter distance racer.
David Hirsch: Excellent. I remember, I think this is true, that there were some billboards, maybe just a billboard in London, that said the Olympics were the warmup game for the Paralympics. Is that true?
Brian Siemann: Yes, there were. Those are really cool to see. The entire London organizing committee really invested in the Paralympic movement, and sort of promoting the Paralympics as an equal sporting event, and they engaged the public in a meaningful way.
So when we were racing and competing, the stadium was sold out. There were, I think, 65 to 70,000 people in the stadium. And so to compete on a stage, not only just the Paralympic stage in general, but then in a sold out stadium, is truly something that I will never forget.
Hearing the stadium roar as I was racing 100 next to the athlete from Great Britain—and I think he won the gold medal that year—so to hear them roar when they announced his name was honestly an incredible moment.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. So Amanda, your Olympic Paralympic experience goes back one Games before that, because I think you’d said that you’d started with the 2008 Games.
I’m sort of curious to know, what has been your Paralympic experience?
Amanda McGrory: So my first exposure to the Paralympics was the Atlanta 1996 games. There was an American athlete named Leanne Shannon, who was 14 at the time and had just broken the world record in the a hundred meter.
And this was prior to me getting involved in sports. My parents were still trying to find a local organization where I would get a chance to compete. So they shared the story with me. I don’t remember whether it was on TV or newspaper or whatever, but I was like, “That’s it. I’m going to break the world record on a hundred meters.”
So it turns out that I’m a terrible sprinter. It took me a little while to figure that out, but from 1996 on, that was the goal. And so, like Brian said, it’s a little bit overwhelming being out there for the first time. There were a ton of people there in the stands, all really, really excited to watch. I think there were 91,000 people in the stadium, as it’s one of the biggest Olympic stadiums there is.
I went out for my very, very first event. Got out onto the track. It was at night, which is something that I am not used to. I wasn’t used to competing under lights at the time. And it was so loud just from the white noise and people talking amongst themselves and rustling, that you could scream on the track and the people next to you couldn’t hear you. It was shocking.
So it was 5,000 meters. I came in as the world record holder. I promptly panicked. I did none of the things that Adam and I talked about me doing, because I was terrified. And I got really, really lucky, because that race was also the worst crash in a women’s race in the history of the Paralympic games.
So I believe 12 people started the race and only four of us finished. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong, went wrong. There was the crash. We came back around the track. There were officials standing in the middle of the track and people swerving around them. It was complete chaos for the last lap and a half.
So I got very lucky. Because of the crash and all of the protests that accompanied the events of the race, they decided to rerun it. So I had ended up finishing third the first time around. The protests weren’t complete by the time they sent us out for the medal ceremony, and they weren’t sure whether we were going to rerun the race or not.
So we did the whole medal ceremony. I got my bronze medal, came off of the medal stand, went back under the track, ran into one of the team USA coaches. He said, “Oh, by the way, just to let you know, you have to give this back and you get to do the race again.” And I was like, “Oh, I get to do it again? This was my first race, and I had won a medal. This is pretty cool.”
And I saw my parents after that and did not have the heart to tell them that I had to give the medal back. So my mom and dad came and met me under the stadium, and they’re making me take pictures with the medal, with volunteers. My mom’s making me bite on it. She’s got pictures of her and my dad with it around their neck. And I couldn’t tell them that I had to give it back.
So I waited until we got back to the village. I called them on Skype and was like, “Mom, sit down. Dad, I need you to like take a deep breath. I have to give the medal back. We’re doing the race again.” And my mom, having no filter, was just like, “What if you never win another one?” I was like, “This is great. This is just the support that I need right now.”
But luckily enough, we ran the race again four days later. Adam and I had a little chat about all the things I was supposed to do that I chose not to do the first time around. I was feeling a little bit more comfortable, ran the race to my strength, and came out of it with a gold medal in a photo finish. So that is my first Paralympic experience.
David Hirsch: That is an amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing. And that was your first and second medal for the same race, the 5,000 meter, the bronze…
Amanda McGrory: My first and second race, my first and second medal. So they actually just redistributed the medals that were given out the first time because they only make one medal per event. So I have a used gold medal that was originally awarded to someone else.
David Hirsch: You can only imagine how that person feels or how that person’s mom feels that you’re wearing her gold medal.
Amanda McGrory: I think the rest of the athletes weren’t super excited about rerunning the race. I thought that it was going to be a great opportunity for me to not choke, okay? Which I didn’t. Kind of, a little bit. I still didn’t do it exactly perfectly.
David Hirsch: So that was your inaugural experience in Beijing. I’m wondering if you can just briefly make reference to your other three Paralympic experiences, because they were also successful.
Amanda McGrory: Some more than others. I came out of Beijing as a four-time medalist. Went to London, had really high expectations for myself there and actually came home empty handed. So this kind of leads into what we were talking about a little bit before.
When I came out of London, I was pretty bummed. I wasn’t sure what the future looked like for me as a wheelchair racer. I continued racing, continued training, and was really frustrated with my performances. That’s when we got close to Rio, and I had gotten to the point where I was really frustrated. I knew that I wasn’t going to perform the way I wanted to, reach my own expectations, and I felt like it was time for a risk.
So we kind of threw a whole bunch of big changes at everything all at once. But I was at the point where it wasn’t going to be worse, it was going to be better, or I wasn’t going to medal. And I already knew that my performances were not where they needed to be compared to athletes across the rest of the world.
But I really do think that spending some time talking to Adam, kind of refocusing, reprioritizing, was super beneficial there. So I was lucky enough to come out of the Rio Games with three medals. Two of them were team USA sweeps, where two of my other Illinois teammates, we went for second, third in the 150 two days later. We did it in the 5,000. Very cute. It was the mix sweep, because we all have Mc last names. So that was fun.
And then Tokyo was a totally different experience for me. I had moved back to Illinois after I finished my internship here at USOPC in 2018. I was really focusing on the Tokyo Games and had planned for that to be my last.
But also, as we have talked about and as you know, from what Adam has told you about the University of Illinois program, the goal of the program is not just to create great athletes, it’s to create great people who really contribute to the sport and to the movement, and go on to be successful in every aspect of their life.
Sports are great. Going to the Paralympics is great. But I was never going to retire as a professional athlete. And so it was the right time for me to take that step and move on. And it’s difficult. It’s always hard. Being an athlete is a huge part of who I am. It’s something I’ve been doing for 23 years. So stepping away from elite athletics feels a little bit like you’re losing a piece of your identity.
It’s just another reason why moving from the University of Illinois, from that sports program, over to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee was the perfect move for me, because it fits into my professional training and my degree, but also it keeps me attached to the sports, to the Olympic and Paralympic movements that I’ve put so much of my heart and soul into for the past 23 years.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Very impressive. Adam, did you want to add anything about Paralympics, either from your own personal perspective, being to all the Olympic Games you’ve been at and coaching all the athletes you have, or otherwise?
Adam Bleakney: Yeah. Real quick. My first Games was in Sydney in 2000, and I’ve been to many Games since then. But to watch the development of the sport, to see the interest grow, and to see athletes like Brian and Amanda celebrated for their elite level of athleticism and prowess and sporting ability has been rewarding. To have been a part of that too has been more rewarding.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well it’s very obvious to me, just the way that Amanda and Brian have made reference to the role that you’ve played in their collegiate, and then beyond collegiate experiences, you’ve influenced a lot of individuals—countless individuals directly, and then I suspect many, many more indirectly.
I’d like to spend a couple minutes before we wrap up talking about Stay-Focused. Amanda, I know that you and Brian have both been involved with Stay-Focused. And I’m wondering if you could give a brief overview of what the Stay-Focused program that Roger Muller started is all about.
Amanda McGrory: Well, I think Brian probably has a little bit more information about the history of Stay-Focused and how it got started. He’s involved in a very different capacity than I have been. I was lucky enough to be invited down as a participant to SCUBA dive for the first time, and then on subsequent trips to continue working on my SCUBA diving skills after I got my certification.
But it’s a really incredible organization that brings down teenagers with physical disabilities to learn how to SCUBA dive and become PADI certified. It’s done free of charge. Roger does all of the fundraising for that. And I know that Brian has been involved with their board, in helping out with some of the more administrative and organizational aspects of the organization.
Brian Siemann: I can jump in just real quickly. So yeah, Stay-Focused, honestly, it was a life changing organization that I was a part of as a teenager. It was something that as a kid with a disability, hearing that you can go SCUBA diving is not ever on your radar of things that are in the realm of possibility.
So when I was offered the opportunity, I jumped on it, because it was something that seemed so cool. As a teenager, you look at it and then it’s a really cool opportunity that you get to tell your friends, “Oh, I’m a certified SCUBA diver.”
But when you look at it from a larger picture and what the trip actually does in terms of instilling confidence and independence for a young person with a disability, I’m showing them what they’re capable of doing in a world that is not usually accessible. It really gives you that confidence to go into the next stage of your life into young adulthood. Part of the program is you set goals. When you follow up the next year, you see if you’ve met those goals or not. And so it teaches you how to work towards your goals and to be successful, really in any aspect of your life.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. I think it’s a wonderful program. I think of it as adaptive SCUBA training. And there’s another program that another member of the Special Fathers Network helped create, similar but not identical to the program we’ve just talked about, which is called Dive Heart, at diveheart.org.
It’s a bit more comprehensive. They’ve got programs all over the United States and then beyond. They do a lot of adaptive training. One of my daughters and I went through the buddy diver training so that we can help individuals like yourselves—paraplegics, quadriplegics, people that are blind, for that matter—go SCUBA diving. It’s very rewarding all the way around.
So Amanda, I’m wondering, what advice can you offer a parent raising a child with a physical challenge?
Amanda McGrory: Well, I’m not a parent, but I have talked to my parents about this. After my diagnosis, when I was still in the hospital, still finishing up my rehab, my mom and dad were both required to go meet with a psychologist and just to talk about the entire experience, and they were given the advice there. They were told that it is very, very important for them to treat me equally. At the time I had one younger sister. I now have two.
They were told that I need to struggle and that I need to learn how to fail, and that they cannot protect me. If they try to protect me, if they try to make sure that I never experience any of those hardships, discrimination, any of the things that you have to deal with as a person with a disability living in a world that is not made for you, they were going to do more harm than good. Then when it came time for me to spread my wings and fly away, to go to college, to get a job, to do whatever it was, that I would not be prepared to deal with the world in any way.
So I remember talking to both of them, particularly talking to my mom about this, just her telling me how hard it was when I was a five year old, watching me for 25 minutes try to make my bed. But everybody had chores, and my chore was that I had to make my bed, had to clean the bathroom, had to do everything that my sisters had to. It took me a little while, and sometimes it took me a little longer to figure out how to do it, but because of that, I learned problem solving. I learned how to deal with frustrations. I learned how to deal with failure. I learned how to be creative.
And it kind of sucks that that is the reality. But in truth, the world is not designed for people with disabilities. And while we shouldn’t have to be creative and make our own accommodations, the truth is that in order to be successful, it’s a skill you have to have.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, great response. And one of the things that I’ve heard said before along those lines is that by making it easy for your child…and this has to do with just raising children. It doesn’t have to do with disability. But if you make it too easy for your kids, and you’re always picking them up and dusting them off, and trying to prevent them from falling or injuring themselves, then you’re further handicapping them. Not intentionally, but the unintended consequence is that you’re not letting them learn how to deal with adversity and be able to do things on their own. So, very well stated. And then is there any advice you can offer an individual student who’s thinking about college?
Amanda McGrory: Well, talking to three University of Illinois alums, we all have had fantastic experiences there. I know Adam and I both mentioned earlier just incredible history of accessibility and dedication to adaptive athletics there.
But it’s not necessarily the right fit for everyone. I know a lot of students with disabilities who have gone to other schools for different reasons. University of Illinois is a very, very big school. It is tricky to find your place there. I think that we had a little bit of an advantage coming into the sports programs. You kind of enter with a built-in group of friends, which makes it a little bit easier to branch out and to meet other people.
But I was a psych major, and I think my graduating class just in psychology within the college of LAS was over a thousand people. That is a huge, huge class. And I had different people in every class that I took. So I never really made any friends within my major just because it was so big.
And so I think that there are a lot of factors. How close you want to be to home, whether you want to move away, live on your own, live in the dorms, and what you are interested in as far as majors beyond sports. For me, sports was the big factor that pushed me to the University of Illinois, but if that was not my goal, if I wasn’t shooting towards the Paralympics, I may have chosen a completely different path.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing and being so open and candid with your response. So do you have to jump?
Amanda McGrory: I do have to jump. I’m 15 minutes late for the meeting I’m supposed to be running.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well thank you so much. I enjoyed the conversation. Brian, you’re going to be the last man standing. So the question is about advice, and I’m wondering what advice you can offer a parent raising a child with a physical challenge.
Brian Siemann: Yeah, I think I would probably echo a very similar sentiment to what Amanda just said. So my parents, after my injury, they didn’t go see a counselor or anything. But they had three other newborns, and then my older brother who was a toddler. And so there was not really a whole lot of time for my parents. It was very much an “adapt on the fly” sort of thing.
I mentioned earlier that when I was growing up, I knew that obviously I was different than everyone else and that I did things differently, but I never would’ve said I was disabled. I mean, literally I was, but in how I viewed my perception of the world, it was just like I did things a little bit differently, but the expectation was that I was doing them. My parents did just that. I was treated no different than my siblings.
And I think that that was and is the most important thing that a parent can do for their disabled child. And it is hard. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to watch your child struggling. But a lot of times it’s how able-bodied people might view the way that someone with a disability is doing as a struggle. But in reality we’re just doing it differently from the “normal” way it’s done.
But by setting expectations and responsibilities for me and not absolving me from what you would expect of any other child in your household, I think it did prepare me to encounter obstacles, and as I got older, to be able to problem solve and think it through.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. I’m thinking about your three sisters, the ones that are the same age because you’re part of a set of quadruplets. I imagine whenever they were struggling with something, they probably didn’t get a lot of sympathy or pity along the way just because you were sort of a benchmark, not the benchmark. And I’m wondering if you think they became a little bit more self-reliant and resistant as a result of just having you as their brother.
Brian Siemann: I would like to think so. When they watch this or listen to this, they’ll probably chuckle, and they’ll send me some snarky comment. But I would think so. There is a unique bond just in general by being a quadruple, but then having this additional layer of disability and ability at play in terms of how we did things growing up, yeah, I think they would look back and say they would see me doing things. So they had less room either complain about something or to say that they didn’t want to do it. Because if I was doing it, then that meant they could probably do it too.
But I also I relied on them. So all of my siblings were so instrumental in terms of my support system, and making sure that when we had to figure things out and adapt things, that I was included and that I could participate. Again, our relationship was built on trust and ensuring that I was treated no differently but was part of everything. So there was not division of ability between us.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So if somebody wants to learn more about the adaptive athletics program at the University of Illinois, or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Brian Siemann: Well, you could always go to the disability.illinois.edu website, that has all of the information about our athletic services as well as academic services. It’s kind of centralized in one nice location. Emails are always great too. You have our emails, so feel free to share those.
Again, I think Amanda, Adam and I could talk for hours. We could have kept going. There’s always more information to share, and we love talking to people. So if there are more questions, yeah, never hesitate to reach out.
David Hirsch: We’ll be sure to include that on the show notes, so it’ll make it as easy as possible for individuals to follow up with you. Adam, Amanda and Brian, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Adam, Amanda and Brian are just three of the individuals involved with the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seek advice from a mentor father with a similar situation your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support
Adam, Amanda, and Brian. Thanks again.
Brian Siemann: Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch. Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics, who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.