There are days, some more than others, when I take leaps of faith. When you see a pothole coming at 35 miles per hour, you just have to close your eyes and pray that you land on the other side. It's really scary sometimes, but if you want to win bad enough, you can't hit the brakes. You've got to go into a competition with everything you've got.
I've been paralyzed from the waist down since I was 15 months old. I grew up in Iowa and was run over by a tractor in a typical farm accident. But my parents treated me just like my siblings and the other kids. They encouraged me to be as independent and freethinking as possible. I had to live up to the same expectations as everyone else.
I started racing in high school. As I got more into it, my disability became a leverage point. It gave me a unique way of seeing things that most people will never understand. That can be a really powerful tool. This year, I won the marathons in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. I'll be racing in the Paralympics in Athens and, hopefully, in an Olympic exhibition event.
The thing that bothers me most is the low expectations strangers have of me. The first thing people see is not a 24-year-old woman who's strong and capable. They don't see a Stanford medical school student. What they see is the wheelchair.
People who know me understand that I'm not at a disadvantage. Quite the opposite. I've always been an inherent overachiever. I have a nagging dislike of defeat. Having to give up anything that is important is heart-wrenching. And I can think of almost no time when I've had to do that.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.