“Handicapped is a mental state!”

Last night I was at a bodybuilding event/fundraiser for the incredible young woman I first saw last year around this time. Here is the much requested follow up:

“Handicapped is a mental state!”
by: Joe Leonardi

Last December, I wrote a column describing a very inspirational moment.  I saw a young person who was missing her left arm and leg ferociously training with the look and intensity of many champion athletes I have met over the years. At the time I didn’t know her story. I didn’t even know her name.

Since that column appeared, I have had many people tell me about the incredible Stephanie Jallen. During a meeting with Senator Ray Musto and his wife, Frances, I was encouraged to have a face to face with Stephanie. I made a phone call to the Senator’s Pittston office and within hours I received a return phone call from Stephanie’s proud and supportive mother Deborah Jallen.

In the course of my life, I have had the chance to train with champion bodybuilders and strength athletes, I have broken bread with multi-millionaires, talked politics with national and state elected politicos and I even had the chance to campaign with the great Lynn Swann. The people I have met are all impressive in their own right, however compared to Stephanie Jallen, well, there is no comparison — Stephanie is in a league all her own.

This impressive person will make you forget that she has just embarked on her teenage years. She answers questions and discusses her life with the poise and confidence of someone who has spent eternity in the limelight.

I asked Stephanie how I should refer to her in this column.

Should I say she is handicapped?

A special needs person?

I wasn’t sure what term to use.

She told me I should refer to her as normal and that is when she uttered the title of this column.

Prior to skiing, Stephanie had been involved in basketball and soccer. Then a little over four years ago, she received a letter inviting her to a PA Center for Adapted Sports Clinic. There she discovered skiing. Instructors wanted Stephanie to ski in the seated position, but the nine year old Miss Jallen would not hear of it. She insisted and obviously got her way — she would ski standing up.

A chance meeting with personal trainer Ernie Baul occurred at a fundraiser that would impact her future training. Stephanie’s congenital condition caused her left side to be underdeveloped, leaving her arm very short, tapering down to one digit. Her left leg had to be amputated when she was an infant. Ernie focuses her training on underused muscles and works especially hard on keeping her hip, leg, knee and ankle strong and stable.

Stephanie told me that Ernie’s training program has translated into a dramatic improvement in her performance.

In the last year, the fiercely competitive athlete entered her first international competition — the Huntsman Cup in Utah.

How did she do?
How does three gold medals and a bronze sound?

Stephanie is a talented skier who is on track for the 2014 Paralympics to be held in Russia. Her ability has led her to be competing above her age level.

She is not limited by her lack of a full left arm, nor by her lack of a left leg.
She can, however, be limited by funding.

It is not an inexpensive endeavor Stephanie has undertaken. Unlike the professionals, USOC and corporate sponsors that dominate the Olympic games, the Paralympics have no such financial backing in place. Several fundraisers have been held, but money can become a limiting factor.

In today’s sports environment, we glorify steroid bloated baseball bashers, but sometimes true sports heroes are here at home.

Stephanie is getting help with her training thanks to the generous spirits of the before mentioned Ernie Ball, who trains her at no charge. Larry Danko has shown his heart fills his massive chest by allowing Stephanie pro bono use of his first class facility. We are the valley with a heart and it is my hope that we adopt Stephanie’s journey as our own.

The news continues to give us many people to be ashamed of — Stephanie Jallen is someone of whom we can be very proud!

I do not think of  Stephanie as a handicapped athlete.

I don’t think of  her as a special needs person.

When she wins the gold at the Paralympics, I won’t think of   her as a Paralympic Medalist.

She is — Stephanie Jallen, Athlete; Stephanie Jallen, Champion.

Dr. Joe Leonardi