By John Thompson and Mary Lane Gallagher | University Communications
Rowing has always been part of Tracy Lee Tackett’s life. So has cerebral palsy.
But until she became involved in elite adaptive sports, the two parts didn’t have much to do with each other. Now Tackett (’96) is a Paralympic silver medalist, a member of the mixed four boat that placed second in the sport’s first-ever appearance at the Paralympic Games in September in Beijing.
“It has been a bit of a challenge having to be more open about my disability,” says Tackett. “My entire life, I had been hiding it so people would not pass judgment based on this physical limitation.”
Tackett’s mild form of cerebral palsy “causes me to limp a bit,” she says, but it has never infringed on her love of rowing; she was on Western’s crew from 1991 to 1993 and was in the varsity boat on the 1993 team that placed fourth in the nation.
“I could move a boat,” she says, “so it didn’t seem to be an issue.”
The Environmental Policy major continued to row after leaving Western, and upon moving to the Philadelphia area in 2002, began coaching for the Philadelphia Rowing Program for the Disabled. She hadn’t planned to take the oars herself until the program’s director was looking for women with disabilities who could row in the firstever adaptive world championships in Seville a few years ago.
“I asked what type of disability the person had to have because there was a chance that I might qualify,” she says.
The boat brought home a bronze medal, and she was asked to try out again last year in preparation for the Paralympics. Tackett and about 200 other U.S. athletes lived in the Olympic Village in September, participating in an opening ceremony just like that of the Summer Olympic Games.
“As we entered the stadium I was overwhelmed,” Tackett wrote in an updated letter. “The stadium was absolutely packed, and when they announced the United States of America, the roar of the crowd was incredible. Here I was representing my country in front of thousands who were cheering for us. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live.”