Lauren Lessard wants to work with paraplegic athletes, maybe even someday at the U.S. Paralympic Games.
On Saturday, the Lewiston native graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in exercise science.
This fall, she’s headed off to Springfield College to study for a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation.
Name: Lauren Lessard
What initially got you thinking about working with paraplegic athletes? While I was at Lewiston High School, I played lacrosse in the spring. My freshman through junior year I was coached by someone who I undoubtedly looked up to on so many levels. Just recently, over the past few years, she has gone above and beyond in the world of the Paralympic Games. After knowing her personally and reaching out to many other people and reading their stories, I knew I, too, wanted to make a difference in their lives. I’ve always had a passion for sports as well as coaching, and working with different populations has opened up my eyes in many ways.
Sounds like you had a pretty inspiring experience during your Special Olympics Maine internship last fall? Yes! I have loved every moment in which I have worked with the Special Olympics. I was able to start a collaboration with USM student-athletes and the Special Olympics this past year. At our first session, I met a Special Olympic athlete that was paired with a wheelchair and unable to run, walk, etc. However, he was unstoppable. In our first few sessions, the Special Olympic athlete was hesitant when introducing him to basketball. Other athletes and I at USM were able to coach him through how to change directions more efficiently in his wheelchair to eventually doing that as well as dribbling a ball down the court. After many sessions, the Special Olympic athlete was able to play in mini-scrimmages and game-like situations that we put on at USM’s Hill Gym. With some positive encouragement, determination and a work ethic like no other, the Special Olympic athlete was on his way to play in his first basketball game.
How does your approach differ when working with a paraplegic athlete versus an athlete without those challenges? Just like any athlete, it’s important to get to know them individually and on a personal level. After working with many Special Olympic athletes, paraplegics and college/high school athletes, it’s safe to say that no athlete is the same when it comes to training. What I find different, however, is that working with Special Olympic athletes or paraplegics leads to a more self-fulfilling time. For example, I could take a Division III, DII or DI athlete and help improve their speed, footwork or lower body power. However, when working with paraplegics or quadriplegics, you need to think to yourself, “OK, how can I help improve this athlete’s coordination (or specific skill) without giving them the idea that it is an impossible task to complete.” It’s rewarding working with these athletes because you become part of THEIR story. No matter what their past is or the challenges they face every day, they’re just as eager to achieve their goals and dreams.
It’s early yet, but do you have a career goal? After I receive my master’s degree in therapeutic recreation, I have a dream of one day working for the U.S. Paralympic Games. Ideally, I would like to work directly with the athletes as well as be a key member of the committee/board.
You’re a big reader. Last book you read and loved: The last book I read was “Reach for the Summit” by Pat Summit. Summit was the head women’s basketball coach from Tennessee and still stands as a prestigious sports icon. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as early as the age of 64, Summit published a book about her experience before, during and after Tennessee. It’s for sure a book that is filled with encouragement, strength and pride!
Beach read you’d recommend for this summer: Whether it’s at the beach during the summer or by the fire during the winter, I always choose to read books that are self-motivating and inspiring. Recently, I watched the movie “Unbroken.” I would recommend anyone to read the novel as well! It’s a story that highlights history, sports and mental/physical well-being strategies.
If you work with the Paralympic Games, you could end up visiting almost any city in the world. Farthest you’ve traveled by plane so far: Yes, I would would love to travel! Especially for/with a career I am passionate about. The farthest I have traveled by plane so far is Paris, Switzerland and Germany. I traveled to Europe when I was a sophomore at Lewiston High School with a group of other students, as well as my sister. We visited the most iconic places: the Eiffel Tower, the Swiss Alps and the Dachau concentration camp.
City you’d love to visit: I would love to visit Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is the headquarters for the U.S. Paralympic Committee, a committee I would love to be a part of some day. I believe it’s a place where a lot of opportunities for myself could arise from.