Nothing down about it: Inclusion for athletes with disabilities

When ultrarunner Siobhan Pritchard was in her mid-20s, she witnessed an act of love that changed her mindset forever. As an avid snowboarder, Siobhan found herself in the ER a few too many times to count, and this time, she was waiting to get her wrist x-rayed after falling precariously. Since this was the pre-smartphone era, the only options of entertainment in the room were to read some old tabloid magazines or simply sit there and look around at other patients. Not one for the tabloids, she chose the latter. Siobhan saw a mother and her son, who had Cerebral Palsy, interacting with more love for one another than she had ever witnessed. As she sat waiting in the room, she had the realization that she was ready to have a child with special needs.
Siobhan riding bikes with her son James
Fast forward a handful or so years later, Siobhan found herself expecting her first child. Shortly after her son was born, the first-time mother received unexpecting news: “Your son has down syndrome.” No prenatal tests had prepared her and her husband, Dan, for this news. The Pritchard’s have now welcomed two more children into their family in recent years, and the family of five is thriving and staying active.
With three kids, how do you provide opportunities to keep them active?
My goal is to open all of the doors for my kids. If they want to try a certain sport or activity, I want them to know that they can go for it. I never want any of my kids to think they cannot do something.
COVID has obviously changed the racing and training landscape for 2020. Managing three children, a full time job, and a non-traditional school schedule has to be quite the challenge. How has your training changed throughout the year?
Like many athletes this past spring, I kept trying to balance it all: high mileage, parenting, work, and life in general. Then I had to change my perspective. Something had to give, and it was my level of expectation of training that had to adjust. Rather than putting in the mileage and elevation as I would for a typical year training for 100-mile race, I have recognized that some days, I may run only 30 minutes and that is simply alright. I think it is not only important for our kids to see me consistently staying active but also enjoying it too.
As a parent of a child with special needs, what is the most important thing you would like to advocate for regarding sports involving people with a disability?
Society must not just include people with disabilities in sports, but train and play alongside them. So often people think if we let people with disabilities be a “coach’s helper” or play in a special division that it counts as inclusion. Sometimes, that may be appropriate but I’d love to see people challenge themselves to not just invite people with disabilities to play in their game but to find ways for all athletes to play and compete together.