Time in UK more precious than medals
SUGAR GROVE—Team USA’s youngest athlete, Amanda Malawski, brought home two medals from the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation’s (IWAS) World Junior Games, held in England from Aug. 2-8.
The 13-year-old Sugar Grove resident won a silver medal in the 4x100m relay, with a time of 1:10.45, with her teammates, Jessica Heims, Lauren Gates and Aubrey Headon.
She took home a bronze medal in the long jump, with a distance of 2.28 meters.
Amanda also set personal records in the 400m dash, with a time of 1:27, and in the javelin. She improved her time in the 200m dash from 38.75 at the National Junior Games in July to 36.73 and in the 400m from 1:28.53 to 1:27.72—times that will make her a contender for the 2016 US Paralympic team.
The 2014 IWAS World Junior Games were held at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury, England, and hosted teams from 32 countries. To participate, athletes must first qualify at the regional level, then qualify at the national level.
Amanda qualified at the Great Lakes Regional Games in Lake Forest, Ill., this year, then competed against more than 200 regional champions at the National Junior Games in Ames, Iowa, to earn her spot on Team USA.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, absolutely huge,” said Cindy Housner, the executive director of the Great Lakes Adaptive Sport Association (GLASA). “Amanda is an extremely talented and gifted athlete, and she’s worked really hard. She is competing against others in the same ability level and age group, and she rises to the top.”
In the games, Amanda competes in a class known as T36, for athletes whose disability affects only one side of their body. Amanda, who was born with cerebral palsy, is affected on her right side. Her twin, Alex, is affected on his left side.
Both Amanda and Alex train at the GLASA facility in Lake Forest on a weekly basis, working with specialized coaches. GLASA offers recreational and competitive activities for athletes with physical and visual disabilities throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
Housner praised Amanda as a particularly hard-working athlete.
“One thing that stands out in my mind is that Amanda is a good athlete, but what makes her really outstanding is her work ethic,” Housner said. “If you came out on a Saturday practice and watched her, she is just tireless. She goes on and on. Not many athletes are doing both track and field. She is just working hard and has a really positive attitude. She’s always looking for feedback, so she’s very coachable.”
The IWAS World Junior Games are a proving ground for the Paralympics, and though Amanda was the youngest member of Team U.S.A., she is already being scouted for the U.S. Paralympic team.
“We’ve talked to the Paralympics coach, and it’s amazing thinking that the Paralympic team is looking at our daughter,” said Lori Malawski, Amanda’s mother. “Never when you have a child with special needs do you think something like this is in their future.”
Amanda hopes to qualify for the IWAS World Junior Games again next year, in Amsterdam, and then be chosen to represent the US in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janerio.
To qualify for the Paralympics, she will need to compete at several events sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee over the next year. The committee will select 40 men and 40 women to compete in the 2016 games; a number of spots are reserved for injured military veterans.
“If she does get selected, the next big event will be next August in Toronto, and then the one after that is in Qatar,” Matt Malawski, Amanda’s father, said. “The end of next year is when they start selecting athletes to represent the US in Rio.”
Despite Amanda’s achievements, few of her classmates at Harter Middle School realize just how fast she is.
“When I was on the track team for my school, I was considered slow,” she said. “Because I’m affected on one side of my body, I’m slower than able-bodied people because they’re not affected. It was kind of discouraging on my track team because I was always the last.”
That’s partly why competing in GLASA and the IWAS World Junior Games is so important to her, she said.
“There’s not a lot of programs for kids with disabilities,” Amanda said. “We are practicing, but we have to travel far. It’s worth it because we can talk to people with the same disabilities, and it’s a lot of fun.”
She qualified for the World Junior Games last year, but she was too young to participate.
“You have to be 14 the year of the games, so I was underage,” Amanda said. “They sent an email saying that I made the team, and then a week and a half later, I got another email saying that I was too young to participate. It was a little disappointing, but it kind of wasn’t, because it meant that I am faster than people who are 16 or 17.”
Going to the 2014 World Junior Games was a great experience for her.
“I was the youngest on the team, so it was kind of a good experience being with other people who have been competing for awhile and are older than me,” she said. “I just started competing internationally, and I liked competing against people with tons of experience.”
It was also a valuable lesson, she said.
“It taught me not to let my disability get in the way of things. If I did, I wouldn’t be where I am and able to compete,” Amanda said. “The people I made friends with (at the games) don’t let their disability stop them. They are normal when they compete, and that’s how I like it.”
Those interactions were more precious than the medals to her parents.
“It was an amazing week. Yes, she worked really hard, but the interaction with the teammates is what will stay with her forever. It made it all worth it,” Lori said.
Amanda Malawski Photo submitted by Jennifer Drews/GLASA to firstname.lastname@example.org