No Excuses: The Story of Elite Gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond traces the gymnastics career of a girl born deaf and blind in one eye. Despite challenge after challenge and setback after setback, Aimee rose in the gymnastics world to compete for UCLA and BYU and at the level of International Elite—a feat no athlete with comparable disabilities has accomplished in the history of the sport. This biography describes how Aimee overcame her health struggles, learned American Sign Language, succeeded in gymnastic, enjoyed social activities, acted in movies, traveled to Hawaii and Russia, worked hard in school, competed in college, and found romance. Bruno Grandi, President of the International Gymnastics Federation, said, “Aimee has filled our hearts with the fire of warmth and love and inspired us all to become better.” Valorie Kondos Field, head women’s gymnastics coach at UCLA and winner of six NCAA National Championships, said, “Aimee’s not deaf. She just can’t hear. Why would she need two eyes, when she has one? She has no excuses.”
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now,” says one Chinese proverb. When I started this project, I had no idea that it would take thirteen yearsto complete and involve about eighty interviews with Aimee’sfamily, friends, mentors, and coaches. Why did it take so long? When I first met Aimee, I was an English professor, and she was in the middle of her career. No one knew how long her career would take or where it would take her; however, I could see that her story was significant and had to be told, so I approached Aimee about writing her story. We then agreed to work together on this project—although at the time we didn’t fully understand the place her story would take in the gymnastics world and in disability literature.
Helen Keller said, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” Most of us don’t have much experience with blindness, deafness, or other disabilities. When I was working my way through college, the only job I could get was working with severely handicapped students as an instructional aide at a high school, which I reluctantly accepted out of financial desperation. I worked with a young man who had been a popular running back on the school’s football team but had been hit head-on by a drunk driver, placing him in the severely handicapped program. When I first saw him, he was drooling in a wheelchair, and I felt sick to my stomach. After four years of working together, he became one of my best friends. Through that experience and many others like it, I gained a better understanding of some of the struggles that others face, and it prepared me to see the significance of Aimee’s story when I first heard about it.
After twenty-seven years in prison, Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” People with disabilities are imprisoned by their bodies, and most of them are never set free in this life. I taught a class in a juvenile detention facility for five years, and I had a student who stopped me outside of class one day. She looked across the grass at the tall fence at the end of the field. It was wrapped with razor wire at the top. She said, “I can’t take it in here. I’ve got nine months left, and I can’t handle being away from my family.” Being incarcerated can change us, and by teaching in detention camps, I gained a better understanding of the need that we all have for hope, especially the disenfranchised. I hope that readers of Aimee’s biography will gain a better understanding of the world of people with disabilities and encourage others to feel hopeful.
“Aimee’s not deaf. She just can’t hear. Why would she need two eyes, when she has one? She has no excuses.”
Valorie Kondos Field—Head Women’s Gymnastics Coach at UCLA who won six NCAA National Championships
“Aimee has filled our hearts with the fire of warmth and love and inspired us all to become better.”
Bruno Grandi—President of the International Gymnastics Federation
“As a parent, devoted gymnastics fan . . . and one who views success in terms of personal growth, not medals or titles won, this is a story that inspires me.”
Kathy Johnson Clarke—1984 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team Captain who won a team Silver medal and an individual Bronze medal on the balance beam.
Adam U. Kempler is an English professor and author in southern California. He has worked extensively with students with disabilities, including those in high schools, colleges, and detention facilities. He enjoys spending his free time surfing locally and fly-fishing in the backcountry of Yosemite. Adam and Jennifer have six children: Jesse, Stephen, Rachel, Rebekah, Timothy, and Ruth.
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