Mary Kate Callahan
Mary Kate Callahan has experienced more than she knew was possible for a 24-year-old. A Chicago native, Mary Kate has been around the world racing triathlons, advocating for what she believes in, and mentoring people of all abilities. Her life was forever changed on the night of December 19, 1995, when she was just 5 ½ months old. During the night, a virus called Transverse Myelitis attacked her spinal cord and left her a T8-T10 paraplegic. She began swimming as part of aqua therapy, joined her local swim club, and never looked back.
Mary Kate has crossed numerous finish lines, from 5ks to breaking the course record at Ironman Louisville, and has stood on top of countless podiums around the world. As a graduate of the University of Arizona, Mary Kate Callahan had returned to Chicago to proudly work at Motorola Solutions and where she now continues to train towards reaching her next goal of making the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Team.
LAWSUIT THAT CHANGED THE GAME
As a high school swimmer, Mary Kate was a captain of Fenwick High School's 2012 State Championship Runner-Up team. However, at the time the Illinois high school sports association was cutting off athletes with disabilities saying no, they can't go on to try and qualify for sectionals or state.
As part of her efforts to swim at the state high school championships, she teamed up with the Illinois Attorney General and Equip for Equality. Together, they spearheaded a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association to allow disabled swimmers to take part in the state meet along with their able-bodied classmates. They contended that athletes with disabilities should have the right to qualify for state just like able-bodied athletes. They ended up winning the settlement, and as a result of this effort, Mary Kate and six other girls were the first athletes with a disability in Illinois history to compete at the state championships. Today, the number of athletes with disabilities has doubled in the United States, since that lawsuit.
"It was November 18, 2012, eight other girls and myself with disabilities stood on the block at the state championship. I looked to my left, and I looked to my right, and I see these eight girls who have disabilities. And we were there because we were athletes, not because we were athletes with disabilities. I saw the entire crowd on their feet, and that moment will forever play in my head because, like it was so much effort to get there, but it was such a monumental day for so many people." - Mary Kate Callahan