We’ve introduced you to a few trailblazers in our FACES family and Cynthia Frisina is here to join the group! She is the executive director of BlazeSports America, an adaptive sports organization that grew out of the 1996 Paralympic Games held in Atlanta and headquartered here, whose mission it is to change the lives of children and veterans with physical disabilities through adaptive sports and recreation activities. In fact, she’s been coordinating activities with the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil and beyond. Her work is a professional and personal passion, as her youngest daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy in 2001, at the age of 10 months. This proud mom of two daughters has become a worldwide expert on disability advocacy and family education and has been awarded countless national and international awards and championing the power of sport for children with physical challenges on a global basis. She has spoken to lawmakers, doctors, families and researchers on behalf of others. Relive the Olympics excitement and read more about Cynthia, one of the most powerful, dedicated women in the sporting world.
Atlanta just celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the 1996 Summer Olympics, as well as the start of BlazeSports. How has the organization — and the people you serve — changed over the years?
The world’s best athletes came to Atlanta in 1996 to compete in the Olympics and the Paralympics. When the Games ended and the athletes returned home, they left something behind … BlazeSports America. BlazeSports has evolved and expanded our local Atlanta sports programs, training and education curriculum and international “sports for social impact” work in other countries. BlazeSports America has touched the lives of more than 900,000 people in the last 20 years. We serve more than 2,000 athletes with physical disabilities right here in the Atlanta metro area with adaptive sports teams and recreational programs, including wheelchair basketball, swimming, track and field, soccer, golf, archery, cycling, rock climbing, table tennis, bowling and much more.
What has been your involvement with the 2016 Paralympics Games in Brazil?
Not only are we excited to have one of our visually impaired swimmers competing on the U.S. Paralympic team in Rio (McClain Hermes, 15), we also have a two-year project in Brazil that is wrapping up during the Paralympics. The focus of our work in Brazil is using the power of sports to bring communities together and include people with physical disabilities in an inclusive manner. The name of our project is “Sports for All” funded by USAID, and we’ve partnered with several organizations in Brazil, including the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee, with great success.
You’re very involved with sports in Atlanta. Where’s your favorite place to break a sweat in the city?
I love paddleboarding on the Chattahoochee, playing ALTA tennis, taking advantage of the Beltline to bike, hike and take an outdoor yoga class, shooting hoops with our basketball team at the Shepherd Center, working out with our track team at local Atlanta high schools and playing golf with our veterans at a variety of different metro courses. When it’s time to hit the gym, I head to Life Time Fitness.
What is the importance of bringing sports to children with physical challenges?
Where do I begin?! Encouraging kids with physical challenges to get involved with sports can completely change their lives and their family’s lives, as well. I feel so honored to be able to do this work and give more and more children with challenges the opportunity to participate in sports. Our goal is to get kids off the sidelines and onto the playing field. Not only do adaptive sports get them moving and more physically active, being involved in sports also increases their confidence, self-esteem, leadership and teamwork skills, and how to win and lose. Some of our kids become very competitive athletes, securing college scholarships and even becoming Paralympians! Last but definitely not least, they make friends and have fun!
If you had three days and a limitless budget, where would you be right now?
I would spend my days at The Lodge at Sea Island, enjoying the wonderful spa, playing golf and sleeping in!
What’s the most misunderstood thing about raising a child with a disability?
I have learned and grown more since my younger daughter’s birth than any other time in my life. You learn patience and you get to witness miracles that you otherwise may have been too busy to have noticed. You encourage your child to do things doctors told you they would never do but you never give up believing and rejoice at every new achievement. You are a therapist, nurse, doctor, friend, advocate and superhero. You learn that there is such a thing as unconditional love.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
I’ve learned that the energy of giving and serving others is extremely powerful. I hope that my legacy is one of service in action and that I actually helped improve the lives of others – not just my own family but all the children and veterans I’ve been honored to serve and advocate for. I would love to know that others would be inspired to carry on this work and pay it forward.
Where are your and your family’s favorite place to eat before a big competition? And any cheat meals?
You’ve become an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities, earning international awards, co-authoring published works and speaking at world-renowned events. How can others find their own calling and join a cause that speaks to them?
Sometimes people find their calling and sometimes their calling finds them! Having a child with a challenge completely changed my perspective and outlook about how to use my skills. I think listening to your own heart, noticing what energizes and excites you, writing in a journal and taking the time to volunteer and serve others can lead you in directions you may never have thought of before. It’s never too late to find your true calling and direction in life!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Hope is not a strategy. Also, “Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.”
What three things can you not live without excluding friends, family and faith?
Books, iced tea, travel
Our thanks to Cynthia Frisina for sharing more about her personal and professional life and the great work she’s doing advocating for the importance of sports for every young person.
And, as usual, we couldn’t do this without the wonderful work of CatMax Photography!
Read about more inspiring Atlanta women in our FACES collection. Click here.