Paralympic hopeful Josh Cassidy and his mother, Anne, were recently in Toronto to talk about the Summer Games and their involvement with the P&G Thank You Mom campaign, which honours moms of athletes around the world who do whatever it takes to help make their kid's dream a reality.
Josh was diagnosed with neuroblastoma — cancer in the spine and abdomen — weeks after birth. But that hasn't stopped him from achieving phenomenal goals. He competed for Canada at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. And as the new record holder for the world's fastest marathon racer, Josh will be competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
We were fortunate enough to grab some time with Josh and Anne. Here's what we discovered.
For myself, I am not even aware of my physical disability. It was an obstacle I overcame at a very early age. However, to the outside world it seems as though it would be something I am still dealing with. The lessons I have learned from overcoming the disability have been applied to other areas of my life. I believe that there is no obstacle that can't be overcome. And I believe this is the same for everyone. Anything can be overcome if we want it to be and believe it in our minds. Then it is a matter of hard work and time. It may take hours, months or years. But anything can be overcome.
Specifically with training, there are mornings where I don't feel like working out. But I know in my mind that an event taking place months down the road is shaped by my actions now. The training I do months in advance will play a bigger role in my performance than my efforts on the actual race day. I can't build the results I want if my tool belt isn't full. In the end it's about keeping my focus on the larger goal. This mindset keeps me driven every day. I would argue that sport is even more about the mental aspect than the physical.
My initial role, as with any mom, is caregiver and nurturer. In our case, my primary concern with Josh was not getting him to the pool, track or arena; it was seeing him through countless treatments and operations, being at his bedside in the hospital, then supporting and caring for him through the rehabilitation process. This all started when he was diagnosed at 3 weeks and continued until the age of 6, when he was officially declared cancer free.
Once Josh discovered an interest in racing — age 14 — my role became that of supporter. Sharing optimism, sharing that dream with your child and supporting them however you can and however they need you to. At the same time, Josh is the eldest of 10 kids, and as a result he had to learn how to be independent fairly quickly. He took to the task and was always a leader to his siblings; they never noticed Josh having a disability until they went to school and other kids asked about his wheelchair.
I like to think that Josh got my positivity, strength, determination and stubbornness that helped him overcome not only his health challenges, but also those he faced — and continues to face — as an athlete.
The first year I was ranked first in Canada was very exciting. It was a definitive stepping stone in my progression to my ultimate goals: world records and Paralympic gold. Surpassing my childhood idol Jeff Adams' records and achieving many Canadian records is something I am proud of. I plan on continuing to maintain my top rankings for my career and improving my record times further. It is a definite motivation to try and achieve results that will stay in the record books for a long time. In the end, my goals are all about my own personal journey and then leaving a legacy that will hopefully inspire others.
Anne: Obviously I'm very excited for Josh and for me too. I didn't have the opportunity to go to Beijing in 2008. At the time, the media coverage of the Paralympic Games was poor, so what I did see of them was on a computer screen that kept freezing; it was very frustrating and difficult not to be there. That's when I told myself "never again." I was going to make it to London no matter what it took. I've been to the Nationals with Josh in the past, but nothing compares to being there for the Paralympics. It's the ultimate experience. It's been a dream in the making since 2008, working hard to make it come true. For P&G to come along and help me make that dream a reality is truly amazing. Their Thank You Mom campaign is so fantastic. It's recognizing all the hard work moms put in on the sidelines and helping us to be there with our kids when they're finally fulfilling their dreams. Through this program, P&G has committed $500,000 to help the moms of Paralympic and Olympic athletes make their way to London.
In our case, the program is touching not only Josh and me, but also the whole family, as we're trying to get as many of his nine siblings to London to cheer him on as well. The chance to be there in person means a lot to all of us, Josh included. I've collected a whole suitcase full of Canadian paraphernalia — face paint included! — to ensure that Josh won't miss us when we're cheering him on from the stands. He'll have his own fan club right there in London. I can already visualize Josh crossing the finish line and winning a medal. It's so real to me that I can actually feel it in my stomach!
Josh: To be honest I am not really excited about the Games yet. I know the excitement and glory anticipated at the Paralympics will only be experienced if I have done all the appropriate preparation. Right now I am still very focused on my everyday actions which will achieve my goals. However, I am excited about being able to share this pinnacle event in my life with my whole family. Thanks to P&G and their Thank You Mom campaign, they are helping to allow this experience to be extra special. Competing in the Paralympic Games and hopefully winning medals will not be nearly as memorable without my family there sharing this experience with me.
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