What Disability? Wheelchair Athlete Pearl G

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
07/21/13  10:14 AM PST

We had the honor of interviewing Pearl G. from Chicago, Illinois. A nationally recognized wheelchair athlete, Pearl has a passion for sports that is evident in her active lifestyle.

She has been nationally recognized for wheelchair basketball, an impressive achievement considering this a recent six-year hiatus from the sport.  This Pearl’s second recognition for basketball, and her first time being recognized as an adult;  she was first recognized as a minor in the 2000-2001 playing season. She also participated in track this past year, powering through the last-minute disappointment of being unable to compete due to feeding tube placement two weeks before competition.  Not stopping there, Pearl started up cycling.  Her first cycling event was Bike the Drive, where she hand-cycled 15 miles down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, IL.  In June, Pearl started playing softball, and took her basketball game to the next level by starting practices with a men’s wheelchair basketball team.   Most recently, she was excited to started waterskiing/wake boarding/paddle boarding clinics.

Shield HealthCare – It sounds like you’re living life to the fullest!  What are some of the coolest things you’ve done as a wheelchair athlete?

Pearl G. – I’ve really never let being in a wheelchair stop me.  I’ve gone skydiving three times, and at the time of doing it I was the first physically disabled person the skydiving organization had ever worked with.  After the first time I was hooked and had to go back.  As a wheelchair athlete, I’ve been given the ability to travel to different states to compete, which in turn has given me so many different opportunities to meet new people and broaden my horizons into different sports.  One of my favorite things I’ve been given the opportunity to do is attend a summer camp for adults with disabilities down in Hudson, IL through the Association of Horizon, Inc.  It’s a week where you get to forget about your disability, meet others who are also disabled, but most of all make friendships that last forever.  For me, having a constant support system and great group of friends is more important, and more fun, than some of the more “dare devil-ish” things I’ve done

Shield HealthCare – What are some of the things you still want to do in addition to being a wheelchair athlete?

Pearl G. – I still have not had the chance to finish my degree, and that’s one thing that’s very important to me.  Having switched from Nursing/Spanish/Psychology to American Sign Language and then simply to Psychology, I really hope to earn that degree soon.  I would love to adopt a child in the future, and that has always been a dream of mine.  I want to get a place of my own and start to get more stable in life.  I would love to help my basketball team make it to women’s Nationals in the future, and although I don’t think I’m USA Team material, I’d love to one day represent the USA women’s wheelchair basketball team.

I’d love to put a check mark on my bucket list of things to do as trying wheelchair racing in a racing chair that actually fit me correctly and compete, whether or not I’m any good at it.  I wouldn’t say I “love” public speaking, but I’m good at it, and I’d love to be able to go and tell my story of what I’ve been through and overcome in life.  I think I’ve got a story that people need to hear, so to have that opportunity to speak to people would be an honor that I would almost always take anyone up on.

Shield HealthCare – Have there been any unexpected surprises along the way?

Pearl G. – There have definitely been surprises along the way!  Having health issues turn out the way they did has had me sidelined for seven weeks now since I had to have a feeding tube placed.  I was really hoping I’d be able to dodge the needing of enteral feeding, but that unfortunately didn’t happen and is something I now will have to incorporate into my life.  I know that it’s going to help my performance because I will be getting the adequate nutrition I need, but it definitely wasn’t, and I think still isn’t, something I’ve grasped wholeheartedly.  Hospitalizations in the past have also kept me sidelined, and at one time led me to decide to quit sports entirely.

I had the unexpected surprise of being granted a new basketball wheelchair, and now I will be able to play in a chair completely customized to me.  This was something that I couldn’t have even imagined in my wildest dreams to come true.  There is no way I could afford my own basketball wheelchair, so to be honored with two separate grants to help cover this blew me away.  This will give me the opportunity to come back next year and play for the women’s RIC Sky team and give it all I’ve got.

Pearl G. playing basketball


Shield HealthCare – Could you tell us about one of the obstacles you’ve overcome?

Pearl G. –  Besides recently joining the world of enteral feeding, one of my biggest obstacles to date occurred in December of 2012.  I was originally diagnosed with a physical disability at the age of eight.  I grew up with it not knowing anything different and accepted things for how they were, adapting in the classroom and at school in all the ways I knew.  Starting at the age of 14, I started wheelchair sports outside of school and made an entirely new group of friends through there.  Although I didn’t start using a wheelchair until later in my teens it was something that I was used to and was accepting of.  Eighteen years after my original diagnosis I learned that I was misdiagnosed.  I didn’t realize that it would affect me in the way that it did.  I figured a physical disability was a physical disability and whether or not it had a correct name didn’t matter.

December of 2012 was the first time I had really seen a doctor for my disability since around 1997, so to be told that during those couple years I was actually being treated they were treating me for the wrong disorder…I was shocked.  I was handed a whole new plate of possibilities when it came to my disability in December:  the chance to figure out exactly what was wrong with me, the chance to go to a clinic that could actually treat me and help me, and medication that could control and better manage the symptoms.  I have a little over a month before I get into the clinic, but those “what-ifs” and unknowns are things that had never worried me before since I always thought I knew what was wrong.

Part of me wishes I was never correctly diagnosed because the unknown is frightening, but the other part of me knows this is just one more obstacle that I’ll get over in order to continue on with life.

Shield HealthCare –  Do you have any advice for people who want to live your lifestyle?

Pearl G. –  My biggest piece of advice is there is no such thing as perfect.  I have the hardest time accepting this myself, but it’s something I need to remember and be reminded of.  When getting into a sport, learning something new, or just getting used to something different, it’s normal and acceptable to make mistakes. Making mistakes is the only way to learn.  As human beings we aren’t made to know everything or doing everything completely correct.  It takes practice to get somewhere.

I also feel it’s very important to take your own advice.  If you can tell someone else what to do to improve their life or fix a problem, you should be able to do the same thing.  You truly cannot help someone else out until you help yourself, so take your own advice, better yourself, and then go on to help someone else.

Lastly, and I think I struggle with this the most, there is no such thing as “normal.”  Normal is a setting on the dryer.  I use a wheelchair and many times that makes me mad because I want to be “normal” and do what “normal” people do.  I get upset when I don’t feel comfortable wearing a bikini or specific shirts because I have a feeding tube and most other “normal” 26-year-olds don’t have that.  Who describes what “normal” is anyway?  Embrace not being normal.  I didn’t want to be a setting on the dryer anyway…

Recent Nutrition

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *