Scholar Profiles: Paralympians

McKenna Dahl and Kayla Wheeler
Photo of DO-IT Scholars McKenna and Kayla laughing while working on a science project during Summer Study 2013

McKenna and Kayla had fun working together during Summer Study 2013.

As C.S. Lewis says, "friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" From childhood through becoming paralympians and participating in DO-IT programs, we have stayed close friends throughout our life.

Our friendship started at Little Red School House, a pre-preschool program for kids with disabilities, when we were less than a year old. In elementary school, we both joined the local Paralympic swim team known as the Shadow Seals. We traveled to a couple of swim meets around the United States, including the 2008 Junior Nationals in New Jersey.

The following year, we attended Camp Access, a summer camp for children with disabilities. The camp director took all over-thirteen campers over to a shooting range for the day.Once we were comfortably settled behind the sights of a .22 rifle, we started one of our normal competitive streaks. We were surprised about how well we did, considering it was our first time shooting.

From there, McKenna decided to pursue shooting while Kayla still competed as a swimmer. Today, we are highly ranked in our respective sports and have both been to many international competitions, including a few world championships.

McKenna

Photo of McKenna looking through the viewfinder on a competition rifle

McKenna competed in the USA Shooting National Championships in June 2013.

After my first time shooting at Camp Access, the camp director invited me to shoot at a local air rifle match he was hosting. After the match was over, I looked at the posted results in shock. I was ranked right up with some shooters that had been shooting for years, and I had only shot an air rifle four times in my life. That match qualified me to attend a Paralympic Training Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. I received training from the Paralympic coach and met some shooters who forever changed my life. From there, my shooting career took off.

Since 2010, I have been to the Training Center three times, competed at the USA Shooting National Championships twice, and as of June 2013, I am a member of the United States Paralympic National Development Team. This year, I have started travelling internationally as well. In Austria I competed in my first international competition, where I brought back five gold medals for Team USA. In Poland, I placed within the top fifteen shooters in both of my events. In Great Britain, I placed fifth in my standing event, earning a spot in the final. Most recently, at the Thailand World Cup, I placed seventh in my standing event, and after the final was over, my overall ranking was fifth. I then won the gold medal in the Falling Target match, which was an event I shot just for fun.

It seems crazy to me that three short years ago, I had just discovered Paralympic shooting. It opened my mind to the world and other cultures and is shaping me into the person I am today. Paralympic sports have taught me the importance of hard work, focus, and determination.

Kayla

Photo of DO-IT Scholar Kayla turning to take a breath during a swimming competition

Kayla has competed in three world championships in the Netherlands, Brazil, and Canada.

I've always enjoyed swimming. Since I was little, I liked the freedom the water gave me. It took away the restrictions of gravity and allowed me to do things I'd only dreamed of doing on land, like flips, handstands, cartwheels, and other things I can't physically do with one limb. In kindergarten, my mom heard through the grapevine that my teacher was also a swim instructor, and my mom approached her, asking if she'd be willing to give me lessons. She said yes, and I still swim with her and her twin sister today.

Several years later, I'm still swimming. I am still a part of the Shadow Seals, but I am also on the National Team. I have been to three world championships—in the Netherlands, Brazil, and Canada—and I've competed in the Parapan American Games in Mexico. I currently hold thirty two national records and three world records. Swimming is one of my favorite things to do, and I can't see myself stopping any time soon.

I love that even though we are in different sports, McKenna and I have both found a sport that makes us happy, but also lets us be competitive with each other. We are both working towards our goal of making it to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

DO-IT

Due to our crazy sport schedules, neither of us knew that the other had applied to be a DO-IT Scholar until we called to catch up after an eventful spring break. One of us mentioned our acceptance into a "cool college prep program at the UW" and the conversation exploded. The next day, we were both contacting Tami, program coordinator in charge of Summer Study, asking her if we could be roommates. A few short months later, we rolled into our dorm room, prepared for an amazing ten days at the UW.

During our time at DO-IT, we were thrown together with other teenagers with disabilities from all over the state. Brief introductions were given at the beginning of the camp, and a few icebreakers were played with the other Scholars. No more than a few hours later, seventeen strangers, brought together by their differences, were adopted into the DO-IT family. We know that we will be a part of this family for the rest of our lives and that they will be our support system through our college years and beyond. We look forward to seeing DO-IT change the lives of many bright, ready-to-learn Scholars next year, when we are in Phase II.