At the age of five, Mikayla Chandler started playing soccer. “My parents put me in it because that is what my older sister did. It was something for me.” Chandler has dwarfism, which is pretty uncommon. “Only about one in 30,000 have it,” she said. She would play soccer until she was about ten years old and then switched to lacrosse. That’s because it is what my sister did… I followed her lead.”
During her freshman year in high school, she was approached to join the indoor track team. Originally, she was reluctant. “I ended up really loving it.” For Chandler, it was easier than the team sports she had participating in. “Running up and down the field was a struggle for me, due to my short legs. I also get to compete at my own pace.”
The following year she had the opportunity to go to Junior Nationals. “I love competing,’ she said. “We all have something that makes us unique, but we forget about all that during a competition.” The Marion, Massachusetts native is also thankful for the opportunity to participate in sports in her state. “In Massachusetts, student athletes like me have the opportunity to compete at indoor and outdoor state meets. It led me to the introduction of parasports.”
Throughout her athletic pursuits, Chandler points out that Adaptive Sports New England, a new chapter of Disabled Sports USA based in the Boston area, has been very supportive of her. “Joe (Walsh, president of the organization) has been instrumental in pointing me in the right direction, helping me find competitions, and providing training advice.”
As a track and field athlete, Chandler focuses on two events, discus and shotput. “I’m a thrower,” she said. She was named a member of Disabled Sports USA’s Elite Team in 2017 and continues to advance and progress in her sport. She works out six days a week, alternating between throwing one day and lifting weights the next.
For discus, she needs to stay very focused and relaxed. “When I’m throwing, I make sure I clear my mind.” Shotput, which is her favorite event and her specialty, she wants to stay aggressive. “I need to do what my coach suggest and let it rip.” As far as diet, she eats a lot of protein, including meats, grains, veggies, and fruit.
The 18 year-old will be a part of the Team USA delegation that is competing at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru. Being named to the team wasn’t something she was particularly expecting. “I’m pretty young, so it was a bit of a surprise. I don’t have the experience yet.” But she has competed at the international level before, both in Arizona and Ireland.
Chandler will be competing in both discus and shotput in the F41 classification. “They are the only two I can do in parasport because of classification,” she said. “It is one of the newer classifications.” She would love to medal, but mainly wants to get improve on her personal bests.
In 2018, Chandler was named the U.S. Paralympic High School Track and Field Female Athlete of the Year. Ultimately, her goal is to represent Team USA at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. In addition, she plans to attend San Diego State University this fall, where she will be the first field athlete to join the new SDSU Adapted Athletics Track and Field team. “There are only three athletes right now, but it’s a start…. I have always wanted to be on a collegiate team.”