Obstacles are meant to be broken

Being a disabled person in the Adirondack North Country is very challenging due to the lack of accessibility to some buildings, restaurants and local businesses.

Getting around our North Country with not the greatest public transportation is a difficult as the wheelchair user I am. Resources such as connecting with adaptive sports programs and getting grant money to help in pursuing adaptive sports. Add on top of that being transgender athlete, life is even more complicated. Rather than giving up and forgetting my dreams, all of these challenges are obstacles for me to bring much needed change to our region. My goal is to challenge ableism as an athlete and make a positive impact for both my transgender and disabled communities. I strive to end the discrimination I face daily, to make a change for our regional community.

I was very disappointed after Ms. Tulsi Gabbard U.S. representative for Hawaii, who once boasted her support for the LGBTQI community, proposed an anti transgender sports bill seeking to prevent transgender girls and women from competing with their cisgender counterpart athletes. This is once again a prime example of the transphobic discrimination the transgender community faces as we struggle to just live our authentic lives. Such discrimination cannot be accepted or tolerated.

On a positive note, in November 2020, I was honored by the NYS Division of Human Rights for being a local transgender leader in our community. I stand honored with many other great leaders encompassing the whole State. Through my activism and athletic endeavors I hope to pave the way for others similar to myself creating more leaders in our community. In my years as an activist I have helped as a community organizer for many local events such as Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance’s LGBTQ Pride Celebration, Transgender Day of Remembrance and Transgender Day of Visibility. This past fall I co-founded the North Country Disability Coalition to advocate for the rights of disabled people living here to help bring awareness, accessibility and change to the North Country.

On Dec, 15, 2020, I was accepted into Achilles International, a worldwide adaptive sports organization, New York City Chapter. Achilles International’s mission is to assist all people with disabilities engage in sports through the global Achilles International community to empower all disabled people to accomplish their goals.

Getting accepted by Achilles is exactly what I needed to fill the athletic challenges I face given no formal disabled sports organization here in our region. Being an Achilles athlete brings many benefits including being virtually connected with other adaptive athletes within Achilles and the NYC Chapter. Achilles International has virtual and in person workouts to join as individuals are able and comfortable. Being connected to the NYC Chapter as a disabled transgender North Country resident is important to who I am as a person in our community.

I have always found sports to be my passion. I began slowly as a wheelchair runner participating in whatever events I could find and gain access to. In my youth I was told that I could never be an athlete because I was disabled and that I would not amount to anything successful. I realize now that I am an athlete and can attain my highest goal which is becoming a member of Team USA as an athlete competing on the world stage.

After my second year of participation in wheelchair running I realized I could be an amazing competitive athlete. Currently in my fifth year, I work to constantly better my own physical abilities and improve my course completion times.

I want to personally thank everyone in the Plattsburgh community for all the support they give me without which I would not be as far advanced as I am. I also want to thank some of my amazing sponsors Vesco Ridge Vineyards, Koffee Kat, Adirondack Coast Events and so many more.

Whenever you have the opportunity please remember to shop small and shop local with some of my amazing sponsors.

(Amber Desjardins is a co-founder of the North Country Disability Coalition, which advocates for the rights of disabled people living in our region to help bring awareness, accessibility and change to the North Country.)