MEET Lacey                      

 From a promising young athlete to a girl battling the rarest form of cancer to an Olympic Games participant, Lacey Henderson’s story is one of maddening hardship, inspiring perseverance and overcoming adversity. After being diagnosed with synovial sarcoma (so rare at the time of Lacey’s diagnosis that there was literally no survival rate) at nine years old, Lacey had her right leg amputated above the knee,  and went through years of physical therapy and childhood ridicule. She received a cheerleading scholarship to the University of Denver before becoming a long jumper for Team USA. Lacey is a six-time USA National Champion in the long jump, the world record holder in the pole vault and the American record holder in the long jump. Lacey also participated in the 2016 Parlalympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. More recently, Lacey earned a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. She is currently training for the 2020 Paralympic Games to be held in Tokyo. In addition to being a world-class athlete, Lacey is a passionate advocate for health, fitness, nutrition, child advocacy and living one’s best life! She started working with children with limb differences in 2010 and continues to use her athletic and social platform to normalize disability in society. In June 2019, Lacey and DCP Entertainment premiered the first season of her podcast, “Picked Last in Gym Class”, which celebrates the adversity that people have overcome before finding success. 

 Tell us about a GRITTY MOMENT in your life that has forced you to learn what you are truly made of…

 Besides surviving a rare cancer as a child; I’ve learned as a woman that life never stops serving hot dishes of shit in life! Leading up to the 2016 trials my parents were having a very messy divorce and I was in a dumpster-fire relationship myself. I had thought that I could push out the problems in my life and still qualify. Despite doing well at team trials I was not initially invited to compete at the Rio Paralympic Games. I was devastated and learned that I was training and living an imbalanced life and ignoring all aspects of who I was and what I needed. I took a trip around the world and ended up in Argentina when I received a phone call that changed my life. I was given one slot to compete at the games a mere three weeks later. Despite being heart broken and not training- I took my chance and became the first woman to make a Paralympic final in Long Jump!

GUTS: How did you “grow guts” and be brave enough to get through your “gritty moment”? Were you afraid? Where did you find your courage? How did facing that moment affect your confidence? Did you feel more confident afterward?

I have an amazing support system, especially a sports psychologist (who happens to help with my life problems too).  I found out that I didn’t need to be a lone soldier doing everything by myself. We succeed when we lift each other up and that’s what I needed. When I didn’t believe in myself there were people who reminded me of my greatness, which helped me carry it through to some amazing places. 

I was totally afraid! I told my training partner I didn’t think I should go because I hadn’t trained (most people do for the Olympics and Paralympics…) he looked at me and said “F**k training, jump anyways!” and it was exactly what I needed to hear- both literally and metaphorically. He was right, I had worked a lot of my life to a moment and it was more of a betrayal to myself to give it up for not feeling worthy rather than stepping into who I was, honestly in that moment, and giving it all I had. 

 RESILIENCE: What did you learn from pushing through your “gritty moment”? What helped you “not give up” and persevere?
 I learned that resilience often comes hand in hand with grace. It takes a lot of perspective and gentleness, ESPECIALLY with yourself to push forward with all of your strength.
 IMPERFECTION: How do you deal with failure and making mistakes? Did your “gritty moment” force you to learn and grow?
Failure has bad marketing because we think of it as final,but it’s always a moment to reflect on what isn’t working so you can continue to improve and find ways that do promote success. My gritty moment showed me that we can’t plan or expect our journeys to play out a specific way,  and to be flexible regardless, and to keep moving forward.
TEAM: What role did your support system play in helping you through this challenging time? What role has this “team” had in your life?
I have been lucky to have coaches, friends, doctors, and therapists who have always pushed me and believed in me. It takes a village for one person’s success,  and leaning on a support system is the best way to get to where you are going quicker. I fought that for a long time. I thought I needed to be the one who does everything,  and that’s just a sure fire way to burn yourself out on any goal.
How has playing sports and/or participating in athletics positively affected your life?
Sports have always made me feel free. Track feels like a meditation and celebration of movement for me now and it’s just amazing to participate in something that doesn’t discriminate on gender, socioeconomic status, disability, etc. If you are alive and have a body you can do a sport,  and that is a gift. You learn problem solving and strategy in unconventional ways, and sport shows you it’s really just a metaphor for participating in life.
And just for fun… What advice would you give to your younger “GRITTY GIRL” self?
Don’t ever think that asking for help is a sign of weakness!

“Thank you lacey for sharing your GRIT!” 

Connect with Lacey via her Instagram