By: Abby Dunkin, Paralympic and Wheelchair Basketball World Championship Gold Medalist, Athlete Ally Ambassador
It was 2:22am on February 26th, 2014. My phone alarm had just gone off. After about 6 years of a constant battle with chronic nerve pain that stemmed from a knee surgery, I was ready to throw in the towel. February 26th marked one year since I had sought out treatment that ultimately did not go as planned, and one year since that mishap had led me to using a wheelchair and cane to get around. I struggled with the transition of going from two feet to two wheels, and I didn’t believe that people with disabilities could be athletic and live an independent life.
Along with my external battle, I had an internal struggle I had been facing since I was young. Growing up in a small town at the time (New Braunfels, Texas) made me think I’d never be able to escape from the dark closet I kept myself in. I made the decision at 2:22am that I was never going to be ready to face my reality. I stood in the darkness of the bathroom as I could feel each tear stream down my cheek with each pill I swallowed. I set the empty prescription bottle on the counter, and grabbed onto each wall to guide myself back to bed. I closed my eyes as I went back to sleep.
Five minutes later my eyes opened, and I found myself panicking. What had I just done? Every negative thought I had before was suddenly out the window. This wasn’t what I was made for, and this was definitely not how my story would end. I had a gut feeling that whatever was ahead of me in my life was going to be worth everything that I was currently going through. I went into survival mode. After shamefully admitting to my mom that I had just done something really stupid, and a few calls to poison control later, we were on our way to the hospital.
I’ve loved sports, and especially basketball, since I was 5 years old. Once I made the transition to a wheelchair, I thought the game would be over for me. But then I found a clip on YouTube from the 2012 London Paralympic Games, where I saw my future teammates take the international stage at the biggest tournament in sport. I knew immediately that I just had to try it. I was able to try out wheelchair basketball for the first time at Fort Sam Houston with military personnel that were adjusting to their new life with a disability. I didn’t know that day would be the start of a future I never would have imagined for myself.
In the fall of 2014, I began my freshman year of college at the University of Texas at Arlington. I’m forever grateful for the environment that my teammates help create, and with a little push from them and my MVP of a mom, I was finally happy to accept myself as both disabled and gay. Having grown up around many people who believed being gay was wrong, it was new for me to be in an environment where people actually accepted me for me.
I spent 5 years at UT Arlington, and helped the team advance to two National Championships. In 2015, I was selected for my first USA National Team. In 2016, I competed in my first Paralympic Games where we were able to be on top of the podium with our gold medal. I never thought that I would be able to be on top of the podium on the world’s biggest stage, and I never thought that I would be able to do it while being the most authentic version of myself. I now have my eyes set on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Fast forward to now: I’ve learned that everyone needs a good diet. When I say diet, I don’t mean just food, although as a plant-based athlete, going plant-based has been one of my best decisions and has done so much for me. But I think everyone needs a diet composed of healthy food, adequate sleep, daily exercise, positive thinking, doing what makes you happy, and having the people that love you in your corner. At the end of the day, everyone from all walks of life just wants to be loved and accepted.
I’m so excited to be a part of Athlete Ally and join many other incredible athletes that have paved the way for LGBTQ athletes like myself to live and compete as their true authentic self. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are love, and we are loved. No matter your religion, race, sexuality, culture, disability, gender identity, or anything else that may seem to set you apart, you are love.
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