It’s been quite a “year,” right? How have you stayed focused on your goals? What if your goals were huge, like competing in the Olympic or Paralympic Games? We caught up with Paralympian Tricia Downing for perspective.
1. You’re an athlete. Tell us about your journey.
I was a competitive cyclist. In 2000, I was hit by a car on a training ride, which left me paralyzed from the chest down. I had to reinvent my life, redefine it. I became an athlete with a disability, a wheelchair athlete. I have competed on the world stage for the last 20 years, including competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. I took the situation that happened to me and made the best of it.
2. What are your events? And are you competing this year?
I shoot pistol—10 meters, 25 meters and 50 meters. In shooting we have three disciplines: shotgun, pistol and rifle. I didn’t make the team this year. The qualifying event was supposed to happen in May 2020. It was postponed until three weeks ago. I think different people were at different points of their training. The delay hurt some people; it helped some other people.
3. How did 2020 and the early part of 2021 affect your training routine?
For me, the main change was right around the time of the shutdown. The range where I train was shut down completely for just over two months. It was later reopened with restrictions, but there was a time there where I was not allowed to train at all.
4. How did you keep up with your athletic pursuits and stay mentally fit during shutdown?
I created my own race goal for handcycling: a climb from Idaho Springs to the top of Mount Evans. My husband and I went on a weekly excursion to find mountains and hills to climb, like Squaw Pass and Lookout Mountain. We did a lot of training. On “race day,” we got up early, got to Idaho Springs. I started in on my race. It was really nice to have a goal to shoot for and be training for that. I was able to control what I was able to control when so much was out of my control. We all feel better when we have a semblance of control.
5. And what about your business and professional pursuits?
Within a week of the shutdown, I lost all of my speaking engagements and had to make some decisions about priorities in my life. Like everyone else, I had to pivot and decide how to move forward. I now work in learning design for Ernst & Young (EY). I had been planning, over the long term, to pursue a full-time job. Timing wise, it didn’t work out exactly how I wanted it, but it worked out the way that was most helpful to show up in my life. Being part of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s (USOPC) Athlete Career and Education (ACE) Program, I had already prepared for and interviewed with EY, and I had the option to go ahead and start the job last August.
I also run a group called the Denver Disabilities Network. It’s an in-person networking group where we can talk about disabilities and how local corporations, organizations can meet the disability community in the middle. How can we get more disabled people employed? How can we get more social support to people in need? In 2020, we went online, and it was really wonderful how we could involve people from all over the country. We had Kimberly Clark from Wisconsin join the conversation. Also McDonald’s and Charles Schwab. Individuals with disabilities joined the conversation to talk about challenges within the community and how we could solve or support them. That was kind of a blessing to be able to have other folks involved. Going forward, maybe we’ll do a hybrid of in-person and online events so we can keep that community going.
6. Can you go back to training while working full time?
I would like to continue competing. There are a lot of different opportunities at EY to tailor your career to how it fits with your life. Hopefully there will be that opportunity for me to compete. Generally, as athletes, we look at life in four-year segments—the time between the Games. Those four years are termed the quad. Technically this quad is only three years. And as athletes, we totally live by the quad. I don’t think it’s a bad way to look at your future in reasonable chunks. This is a reasonable amount of time where I can achieve some pretty big goals … 10 years is too overwhelming as a chunk of life. There’s so much other life that’s going to happen during that time too.
7. You’ve spoken and written about perspective shifts allowing you to achieve what you have. Can you tell us more about the benefits of disability?
You have to think differently. Every day you have to problem-solve. There’s always something that gets in the way, especially when you’re in a wheelchair. It creates a lot of innovative people. When I look at the groups I’m in on FB, there’s one guy who built a baby seat onto his wheelchair. Another guy put a shovel on so he could shovel snow. It makes for a really creative and innovative community. When your life changes in 30 seconds, you’re thinking, “Hey, I got a second chance … I’m going to reinvent.”
Every time we come upon adversity, that’s when we really tap into that creativity within ourselves and find answers. That adversity changes your course just enough to make something amazing happen that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
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