Going for the Gold: How Colbie Found Herself Through Kennedy Krieger's Physically Challenged Sports Program

January 21, 2009
How one girl found herself through Kennedy Krieger's Physically Challenged Sports Program
Colbie Bratlie

Colbie Bratlie wants to be a world champion. And the odds are good that she will be because she competes in wheelchair basketball, sled hockey, track, field, archery, table tennis, and swimming. The athletic 14- year-old already seems Herculean for her stamina and determination, but when you add in that she has cerebral palsy, it truly does make her accomplishments seem superhuman.

But were it not for the Bennett Institute at Kennedy Krieger, a sports program for physically challenged children, Colbie might never have had the chance to compete. Fortunately, a physical therapist recommended the program to Jen, Colbie's mom, and she enrolled her daughter. From that point on, nothing could stop her. She participated in her first national competition at the age of 5, and this year at nationals she received the spirit of excellence award in field events-not to mention setting three national records in field events.

"When I compete in these sports I am not thinking about how I'm disabled," says Colbie. "I am thinking about my pushing my chair faster than the girl next to me, or getting to the puck quicker than the guy behind me, or making my flip-turn perfect every time."

Off the court, it's helped Colbie define herself and develop a positive self-image. And although that sense of acceptance and belonging is something every kid needs, it can be particularly challenging for kids with developmental disabilities.

"I probably wouldn't do as much if it weren't for the Bennett Institute," Colbie says. "I wouldn't be as outgoing."

Colbie's mom agrees. Jen says she knows that Colbie is stronger, happier, and more independent because of her participation in the Bennett Institute's programs.

"It's exciting for me to see her be so independent despite her disability" says Jen. "I love to watch her compete, but she always tells me not to yell so loud."

Being part of the Bennett Institute means a lot of things for the kids who participate. More than ribbons and medals, it gives them a place to belong, a new way for them to look at themselves, independence and strength, and a world of new opportunities.

"We all have labels," says Gerry Herman, co-director of the Bennett Institute. "But being a part of this program changes them from a kid in a wheelchair to a basketball player or a swimmer. It gives them confidence."

It also gives them truly unique opportunities to see the world. Through the program, Colbie has traveled to the Cayman Islands, where she and other kids with cerebral palsy learned to scuba dive. And this year, she traveled to Beijing, for the Paralympics Academy, which took place during the 2008 Paralympics. It was the thrill of a lifetime for the Bratlies.

While there, Colbie and her mom watched events at the Paralympics, talked with paralympians, and ate authentic Chinese food. And Jen will never forget the moment when she watched her daughter climb the Great Wall. The moment Colbie reached the top seemed symbolic of all she has overcome.

Colbie left Beijing with a renewed sense of commitment to her sport, and she says, "I want to go to the Paralympics. It would be incredible to compete against the best athletes in the world."

And true to form, she's already started training. Next stop, London.

Kennedy Krieger Institute Announces Retirement of President and CEO

Dr. Gary W. GoldsteinThe Institute’s board of directors is conducting a national search and is expected to name a new CEO in the coming months.
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