For two weeks every four years, I sit in front of the television in awe at the athleticism, grace, unrelenting determination, courage, fear, and triumph of the human spirit. I am inspired and touched by their stories of all that they overcame on the journey, of their sacrifices, and their passion. For some, they will leave with medals. For all of them, it will be an experience they will carry with them the rest of their life.
April Kerley, marketing director for Simply Money – a registered investment advisor and media company, knows this very well. When she is not talking finances, or speaking before large audiences, a likely place you will find her is in a pool. April learned how to swim when she was six, and quickly excelled from local clubs, to the high school team, and as an NCAA Division I swimmer while at Xavier University. That path ultimately led her to becoming a member of the World Champion team and to Beijing, China in 2008 where she competed in the 2008 Paralympic Games. April has held a total of nine Para American, two Para Pan-American, and one Para World Record in her long swimming career.
The sport will always be a part of who she is, but so too will the life lessons it has given her. She shares those lessons through talks and volunteer work with organizations such as the ReelAbilities Film Festival and LADD – Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled. (we met during my work for them).
Leading up to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games the U.S. Department of State and Paralympic Games are featuring Paralympians #WithoutLimits. The Human Rights Campaign is an effort to bring awareness to equal opportunity employment for disabled professionals. April is among those featured.
What better time to learn more about her? Please continue reading.
Lisa: You have talked about working through your own misperceptions of paralympics, and that impact on you. Can you talk to us about that?
April: When I first heard about the Paralympics in 2005, I thought it was geared toward people who use wheelchairs. I didn’t think I would be able to relate. Now Paralympics is my platform to remind me to recognize potential for greatness in everyone. Adaptive sports are not about disability. They are about showcasing abilities. No matter what you have going on in your life, you can excel at something. A lot of times, it is seeing people who have disabilities playing sports that is a transformative moment when spectators say, ‘If they can do it, I can too.’
Lisa: Where did your interest for swimming come from?
April: I began swimming when I was six years old because my mom just wanted my brother and me to learn how to swim and be safe around water. For whatever reason, we just gravitated to water. Both my brother and I went into competitive swimming.
Lisa: What role did your parents play in your success?
April: My parents were very insightful about they chose to raise us. They made the conscious choice to allow me to struggle a little to learn how to do things for myself because they knew I needed to learn how to adapt. I had my typical struggles and tantrums but they taught me to be the best of myself. As a result, I have learned that I can do things, just sometimes differently. Those adaptations are seamless to me today, they are not an obstacle. Rarely do I say something is difficult.
Lisa: What do you say to others about trying and learning in life?
April: Doing that is really just part of who I am. I am of the mentality that you just do it, and learn from the process. There may be a misconception that I have not failed. Of course I have. I did not make the 2012 or 2016 paralympics teams. Often athletes who have gone on to the Olympics or Super Bowls have quit at their peak. I challenged myself. I asked myself, ‘How do I know if that was my peak unless I push past it?’ If you quit at the top, you will never know if you could have gone further. I experimented in a way that most do not dare to do. In hindsight, 2008 was my best year but I would not have known if I had not continued.
No one wants to lose but you learn more from losing than you do from winning. You gain something in a different way.
Lisa: How much do you swim these days?
April: I spent a whole decade at the Paralympic level and I will be a lifelong competitor. It will always be a part of me. I swim six or seven days a week still, twice a day.