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Hannah DederickJune 24, 2024 at 12:13 PM6 min read

Chasing Dreams and Degrees: Life as a Student and Paralympic Athlete

Chasing Dreams and Degrees: Life as a Student and Paralympic Athlete

dederick_ps_849446 2Source: Hannah Dederick


I was born in China and adopted by an American family at the age of almost-4-years-old. In 2013, the Shriners children hospital recommended that I get involved in an adaptive sports program called ParaSport Spokane, as I was born with spina bifida. But I did not show interest until two years later in 2015, which was when I gave it a shot and tried out adaptive sports. I mainly wanted to try wheelchair racing, which I did for the first time at the age of 12, and then quickly got involved in wheelchair basketball as well.


At the beginning of my Paralympic athlete journey I was very timid — meeting para athletes in wheelchairs was very new to me — before I was always the only person in a wheelchair among my able bodied peers.



Meeting para athletes became a different world to me — it was for sure a culture shock. But I built so many positive friendships with para athletes I met along the way. 



I got the hang of both wheelchair racing and wheelchair basketball very quickly. Learning the skills in each sport was a learning process and definitely frustrating at times. I quickly
arose as a wheelchair racer at a young age. At the age of 14, I made my first Junior world team and it was my first time competing overseas, representing the USA.



All the times recorded at Junior worlds placed me sixth in the world in the 100 meter among the best wheelchair racers in the world. From that point forward I knew I could potentially see myself making my first Paralympics for the Tokyo 2020 games.



It wasn’t going to be easy, as I was classified in the most competitive racing field.
After Junior Worlds, I continued to get stronger, faster, shedding my times and having opportunities to be on Team USA at major events including Worlds, ParaPan Games, and another Junior World Championships.


In all four years of high school I was involved in my school's cross country and track team.



Competing alongside my able bodied peers has taught me that representation is important and that unity brings equality. Showing my able bodied peers that I'm just as competitive as them helped them see that para athletes work just as hard to achieve goals.



I competed for my high school at state all four years breaking records and becoming state champion.


In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I knew that it wouldn’t stop me from training. Throughout the pandemic I continued to train on the roller in my own home and would join zoom meetings with my Parasport Spokane team. While the pandemic unfortunately postponed the Tokyo
Paralympic Games by a year it gave me another advantage to get stronger, faster and train more.


When 2021 rolled around, it was my shot to make the Paralympic team and also finish my senior year of high school. All the training and meets I’d raced in leading to the Tokyo Team Trials left me feeling that I was very well prepared. At Team Trials I performed well, racing PR’S and beating Paralympic medallists. I spent the next couple of days anxiously waiting to find out if I made the team.



On the day of the Paralympic Team announcement, I was on the Zoom call waiting for my name to be announced; and just like that, I made my first Paralympic team at the age of 18 and was the youngest wheelchair racer on the U.S Tokyo Paralympic Games team.



I qualified to race in the 100 meters and 400 meter events. I spent the entire summer leading up to the Games training and doing interviews with local news stations in my community to share my story.


Getting to experience my first Paralympic Games was the best moment in my life. It was the opportunity to compete on the greatest stage — and attend the opening and closing ceremonies and live the Paralympic village life too. I walked away from my first Games with a fourth place in the 100 meter — just shy of a bronze medal.


I knew right after graduating high school that I wanted to continue my racing career and education at the University of Illinois. The University of Illinois Wheelchair Racing Team has
been home to the best wheelchair racing athletes in the world, all led by legendary coach Adam Bleakeny. Right after the Tokyo Games, I moved to Champaign, Illinois and
began a new chapter as a student-athlete. It also marked the start of my journey to Paris 2024.


8F1D2D3E-3904-461F-92F9-5A8033866E3BSource: Hannah Dederick


Fast forward 9 years, and my passion as a wheelchair racer continues to grow: setting the bar higher and higher, overcoming challenges and building lifelong relationships with my teammates and coaches. While at Illinois, I have raced in multiple Abbott World Major Marathons, and competed at my Second World Championship. Coach Adam, Teresa and my racing teammates have truly been the biggest influence in my life since getting involved in racing. Through surrounding me with so much joy and positivity to chase my dreams and aspirations as both a student and athlete. They continue to help me rediscover my potential. I'm so grateful to have them as a part of my life every day.


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My journey as a Paralympic athlete has truly grown my confidence in myself, made me a better mentor, advocate, and showed me what it takes to work hard to achieve the personal goals I have set for myself.



Seeing my teammates and Coach for training is always the highlight of my day. We not only fill it up with blood, sweat and tears, but we also fill it with laughter, smiles and jokes. That ability to find joy in hard times is very important to make the process more fun and enjoyable.


I am currently training for the 2024 Paralympic Trials to hopefully qualify for Paris and working towards getting a Bachelor's Degree in Sports Management. With my degree, my vision is to create change in helping to incorporate more Paralympic sports in universities. Becoming both a full time college student and athlete can be quite challenging, as you must balance two completely different roles on a daily basis. I am trying to achieve two big, yet different, goals in life: working towards getting my Bachelor's Degree and earning a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team. My schedule typically consists of training 8 days per week, and 14 credit hours worth of classes and school work. In the end, I love being busy as it motivates me to better myself each day and achieve daily goals.


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Source: Hannah Dederick

About Parity

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Hannah Dederick

Born in Suzhou, China, Hannah Dederick is a standout American Paralympic sprinter. Adopted from an orphanage, she moved to the U.S. where she underwent surgery for spina bifida, setting her on a path to athletics. A competitor at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, Hannah has excelled in international events, including winning multiple golds at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 and the World Para Athletics Junior Championships. Her dedication and resilience continue to inspire as she dominates in wheelchair racing.