‘I won’t give up on me’: Why this Paralympic hopeful should be an inspiration to all

‘I won’t give up on me’: Why this Paralympic hopeful should be an inspiration to all

Sydney Satchell lost her leg in a car accident, but she did not let it derail her plans for a life in sports.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Mar 30, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Mar 30, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Sydney Satchell smiled as she looked around the auditorium filled with middle school girls who played sports like she did when she was their age.

“Here’s my party trick,” she said.

She bent down and pulled up her left pant leg to reveal a prosthetic, a titanium contraption where her lower calf and foot used to be.

A murmur rippled through the auditorium.

“Yeah,” Satchell said with a bigger smile, then turned serious. “I had to make a decision. And the decision I made is that I won’t give up on me.”

Earlier this week, Satchell was the keynote speaker and unofficial cheerleader at FUEL, a day of understanding, educating and learning for female middle school athletes from Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools. The event was the brainchild of women involved with some of our city’s most important sports brands. Among them: Cleats 4 Kids, the Thunder and the Rookie League Foundation of Oklahoma. 

About 200 girls participated.

I hope they took away all sorts of lessons and learnings, but as much as anything, I hope they got inspiration from Sydney Satchell.

She is someone in our community you need to know about.

A Paralympic hopeful and member of the U.S. national women’s sitting volleyball team, which trains in Edmond, her story is a reminder that we can overcome difficult circumstances. We can manage unexpected challenges. We can do hard things.

She lost her leg as the result of a car accident less than a year after graduating from Howard University. The Connecticut native was just beginning her adult life, a life she thought would include sports. But without her leg, she faced a different path than she initially thought she’d be on.

But rather than me telling Satchell’s story, I thought I’d let her tell her own story in her own words.

I played basketball, soccer, lacrosse throughout high school. I loved it. I had to make a decision late in the game to play lacrosse. … I played lacrosse at Howard. Tried to transfer. But Howard found some money for me to stay. And I was like, “I love it here.”

So I graduated Howard, and I was looking for a job. I wanted to stay in athletics. I wanted to just walk up the ladder of lacrosse. Coach a couple places, and then get that head coach job. … Went to Berkshire School in Massachusetts. Started coaching and working there. That was a lot of fun. 

And then I had a car accident in 2015.

On my way to work, some ice and a tree had a conversation (with my car). The car did not win. They had to use Jaws of Life to get me out. The engine was on for 20 minutes. After they turned off the engine, it took them an additional 20 minutes to get me out of the car. And where we were, there was like 45 minutes to the nearest hospital.

They figured out my leg was broken in three places. There’s two main arteries that go to your foot. They could not find one and the other one was half. So I went to the ICU. Led to an amputation. Almost two months in the hospital. 

I was in rehab. I had my prosthetic. Things weren’t working smoothly, and I found my prosthetist who was like, “Hey, have you ever thought about the Paralympics?” And I was like, “Will I be able to run, jog and do everything?” And they were like, “Yes!” I was just really ignorant at that time about the value and the career path that Paralympics was and still is. 

I’ve always loved volleyball. Any of my Howard volleyball players, between 2010 and 2015, know I was at home games. I was the loudest. I had always loved volleyball. And so I tried it.

February 4. I’ll never forget it. 2016. 

Came to Oklahoma and loved it. Used my athleticism to learn a new sport and new discipline, and it really fueled and continues my love for sports and what it can and does do for people, but especially for women. 

So I found sitting (volleyball), and my journey has been unique over the last seven years being on the team. Not being on that roster for Tokyo (and the last Paralympics) was so hard, but it really fuels me because most people don’t make it and I get to speak to that. You put in all the work, you do all the things and you just do your best. As a professional athlete, it’s hard to be like “Yeah, do your best.” … The expectations and the requirements are the same essentially across the board. But one of my things that keeps my heart healthy … is I really feel like my purpose on the team is to be a light to change, to be an influence wherever I go. As an athlete, that’s sometimes hard to swallow. It’s like, “No, I want to win. I want to be a part of the win. I want to go.” But I feel like when you know your purpose in a place, on a team, in a state, it allows you to still have those goals but recognize the personal wins along the journey. I can celebrate the journey because if I’m waiting for a gold medal to celebrate, man, I’m waiting seven years. It allows me to enjoy the journey better.

I’m grateful for sport, how it’s impacted my life, how it allowed me to take something that could have really changed my outlook on life, on who I am identity wise. But sport allowed me to build that confidence.

It’s a different path. But what it did, it didn’t change my trajectory. It opened my eyes to see. It widened the band. It was a spectrum. Because now we’re looking at it from a holistic standpoint. Now we’re looking at it as wellness. We’re looking at it as a career path. We’re looking at it as infrastructure and system. Now we’re looking at it from a global standpoint.

My goal as a young girl was to be the first Black woman on the first Olympic lacrosse team. Mind you, lacrosse is not in the Olympics, right? But that’s where I was, and that’s how I thought of sports. And I know, (getting into sitting volleyball) broadened my understanding. 

That’s why no matter what I do … I’m still going to be in sports some type of way. Not sure how yet. But because it really goes beyond language barriers, goes beyond culture, goes beyond. It’s a universal language.

When they presented imputation as a option, it took me a week to get in agreement with it because I asked my prosthetist, “You’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Name a beautiful, young Black woman, non military, that has the type of (active) life that you’re talking about.” He couldn’t describe it. I couldn’t see it. 

Now that I have this very cool opportunity to be like, “If trauma hits … it is not the end of your story.”

 

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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