Lacey Henderson is a 2016 Rio Paralympian, a 7-time US Long Jump Champion, American record holder and 2019 Para Pan American silver medalist. She was a Division I cheerleader at the University of Denver and found herself on the track learning about para sport as she was graduating undergrad. She became one of the only amputees in the world to pole vault, resulting in a world record and a fruitful career in para-athletics. She has been an AFH Member Athlete for over 6 years.
I always make a joke whenever women’s history, or our allotted single “international women’s day,” that in my life; every day is women’s day. I went to an all-girls high school, so I had the privilege to grow up in an environment where women grew together and supported each other during very formative years. Well, our school was actually “co-institutional,” which means there were two separate schools. The boys school had a long legacy, and I was a part of the first girls’ class ever. Showing up at school events, the boys would seethe and tell us we were “breaking their tradition,” as if I made a cognizant choice to be born the way I am. I always found that annoying but didn’t understand at that age, that breaking these certain types of traditions is not only a good thing; but going to be an ongoing theme in my life.
As I continued my cheerleading career at the D1 level, our all-girl squad quickly became friends with the women’s basketball team. We called ourselves “cheersketball.” I fought a lot of our authority figures if something felt wrong or unjust, to be honest, I was in trouble a lot because of this! Even at that stage in my life, the treatment of the men’s and women’s teams were strikingly different. It was even more glaringly apparent during conference games. This blew my mind especially in the years that the women’s teams were more successful! Nothing made sense!
It never dawned on me that regardless of my gender, or my disability, that I would ever be at a disadvantage to anyone else. Even in my sport career through disabled sport, I have the privilege to live and function in a utopia that doesn’t exist in many other places. The only inkling of an idea that disabled people had a disadvantage were the internalized stigmas that I had grown up believing about disability.
It was only when I became a more fully functioning and slightly older adult that I realized being a double whammy- a woman and a disabled person, makes my world less “accessible.” That instead of everyday having a seat at the equity table, that I maybe can only relish in it for a day or a month.
I had pushed so hard in my life to make high level squads, both disabled and non-disabled. All I’ve known to do is advocate for myself and force others to hear my voice. I didn’t realize that this was challenging the status quo, this has just always been my life.
But the ironic thing is that, for women, this is so common it arguably is the status quo. Every day, women break down boundaries and make amazing strides. Whether it’s broadcasted through an international sport event, or it’s accomplishing a small task at home – women are constantly evolving, fighting and having breakthroughs. Being an innovator like that, in all that one does, is something worth celebrating.
My life, and consequently my career in sport, has shown me that being a disabled woman is something to celebrate every day. So, to me, women’s month is every month, every day, and even every moment.
In my opinion, we are living in an amazing time. For so long women were groomed culturally to compete with each other, and it seems like we finally had our meeting and decided, “No, we are going to be cheering for each other and working together now.” Advocacy is strongest when it has numbers behind it. If you are at an advantage over another woman of another race, gender identity, or disability status, you should feel morally obliged to stand up for them. Current events are really bringing up a lot of issues we have historically been needing to correct and now is the time to elevate others voices along with your own. Use your platform to speak out. Make strong connections with allies- I really try to be intentional on making women’s rights not “anti-man rights” because, we need our male counter parts to support us and help bridge that equity gap.
We only rise by lifting others.