PYEONGCHANG, South Korea —Mia always wanted to be an athlete, from the moment that she and her sister Natalie were figure skating together, she knew that the freedom of movement that comes from and with the sport was for her. Even after she started having trouble with her vision by the fourth grade and was eventually diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a type of macular degeneration, Mia kept moving – setting her pace as an athlete.
In the seventh grade, when her vision was now, ‘like looking through sea glass’, she stopped figure skating and started running, trusting her sister to be her guide. Her Mother, Jenn said, “Mia is incredibly motivated, incredibly independent, slightly on the stubborn side, if she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it. She made it known early on that she wanted to do it alone, she didn’t want us marching into school meeting her teachers, holding her hand, no she was just going to do and she was going to figure out how to be an advocate for herself, that was 7th grade and in high school, she would inform us, but she took the lead.”
Her parents were hands-off, letting her set the pace of how to adapt to this new way of being in the world. Sure Mia needed more support to find her way, but she dictated the terms and they all adjusted to her, not the other way around. Most of disabled people have to spend their lives living as the “only ones”, isolated. The ones that are different than the rest, the ones that are singled out, the only one in the room and they are considered “special”. That’s why Mia’s path, so far is a great metaphor for how inclusion should work for everyone. She lets the people around her know how they can adapt so she can thrive, be independent and successful.
It’s evident, when watching these two, Mia and Kristina Trygstad-Saari, that their relationship as skier and guide is based on clear communication, respect, and trust. These values have helped them create an environment that supports their mission of excellence in ski racing and to act as a team. “We work together as a team. I’m relying on her for all the information on the course. I can see a little bit but definitely I’m thinking about the most, is, what is she saying to me, so I can focus more on my technique and not so much worry about where I’m going”. “There’s definitely a lot of trust in that relationship especially when we’re flying down some big hills. I’m so grateful to Kristina – we have a great connection”. Mia revealed with a huge smile.
This duo’s pace and timing coupled with Mia’s ability to mirror Kristina’s skiing technique create this exhilarating feeling, a certain calmness when one watches Mia cross country ski as if she is someone who has been skiing all their life and not just for two years. It will be a pleasure to watch Mia’s journey as she progresses during next four years. To be adventurous, to grow, to build a sense of identity of self is exactly what Mia is doing.