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home : features : people of faith

12/6/2012 11:58:00 AM
Paralympian makes a disability simply a challenge
Ms. Maneen in competition and after.
Ms. Maneen in competition and after.
Ms. Maneen said her parish community in Frankfort has supported her with cards and congratulations with every triumph, especially recently. "They take care of me - that's for sure," she said.

She remembered kneeling to pray in her soccer goal during games "just to feel safe." Before races, she repeats the Hail Mary on the starting blocks until the referee yells, "Set!"

She said her faith has always helped her accept the challenges of an amputee: "It made me feel that it happened for a reason, that God has a plan for me."


Katie Maneen, 21, looks back proudly on her sporting achievements: 427 saves in one season as a soccer goalie; years of regional and state accolades in soccer, volleyball and softball; and, most recently, nearly international fame in the running world.

The only thing Ms. Maneen can't do is skip. Ice skating is also a little tricky. Those activities require ankle movement in both legs, and her right leg is prosthetic.

But the parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church in Frankfort would tell you her athletic prowess is no big deal. Of her participation in four varsity sports in high school, she said simply, "I had to do some things differently," like adjusting her movements if she was diving for a goal on her right side.

These modifications never made Ms. Maneen feel limited, however: "Anything I try to do, I do it to the best of my ability. I don't consider myself disabled; I consider myself physically challenged" - and each day's challenge ends after she puts on her prosthetic leg in the morning.

Perhaps it's Ms. Maneen's attitude, coupled with her qualifications for two national Paralympics championships and an alternate spot on the U.S. Paralympics team this summer, that won her the annual Faxton Cup award from Faxton St. Luke's Healthcare in Utica this fall. The award honors individuals who demonstrate what people with disabilities can accomplish.

Ms. Maneen was born missing a fibula and toes on her right side, so her parents authorized a below-the-knee amputation when she was 11 months old. She'd already been crawling at that point, so she learned to walk on prosthetics. Her parents and older brother never treated her differently, so she never felt different or entitled to special treatment.

"I wasn't 'Katie with the one leg,'" she said. "I was just Katie. I don't expect anything to be handed to me. I work for everything."

Still, the fact that she achieved so much in Paralympics competitions surprised even her. Ms. Maneen only started running in 2010, after getting fitted for her first running prosthetic.

After competing mostly as a javelin thrower at Herkimer County Community College, where she began her studies, she was recruited to run on a higher level and compete against other below-the-knee amputees.

Despite never having planned to take up running competitively, she received a silver medal in the 200-meter dash and a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash at both the 2011 and 2012 U.S. Paralympic championships. She set a personal record during the latter games, which determined who would advance to London.

"It was very exciting," Ms. Maneen said. "I had never expected to do so well."

Currently a senior communications major at Utica College, she hopes to work in higher education. In between training with her coach this summer, the athlete interned in the admission and public relations offices at HCCC.

Ms. Maneen has retired from all of her high school sports except golf - she'll do that until she's 90, she said with a laugh - but has helped coach volleyball and soccer at her high school since graduating. Competitive running will probably last about another year.

Since high school, she's also done volunteer speaking engagements at local schools on perseverance and how to treat people who appear different. Adults need this kind of education and awareness of disabilities, too, she said.

"I want people to know that I'm just like them. I walk on two legs just like they do," said Ms. Maneen, who considers her leg a "tool to show that disabled people are just as good as everybody else."

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