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Chico State

‘Limited Sight, Limitless Dreams’: Chico Paralympian Wins Rio Bronze

Kym Crosby waves the American Flag and stands behind the Rio 2016 Paralympic sign.
Photos contributed by Kym Crosby

Brimming with excitement and possibility, Wildcat Kym Crosby started her race to medal in track the second she set foot on Rio de Janeiro soil for the 2016 Paralympic Games in mid-September.

Equipped with hair dyed blue to match her uniform, socks sporting superhero The Flash, guide dog Keystone, and a personal motto of “Limited sight, limitless dreams,” the visually impaired runner’s first Paralympic experience commenced with a fierce drive to compete. After finishing second in her heat in the 100-meter preliminaries, Crosby clinched a spot in the women’s 100m–T13 final held September 11.

Although unflinching in determination, she admitted to feeling nervous before the big event as runners in previous heats had broken world records.

“I was actually doubting myself a lot and telling myself—mentally preparing myself—for not medaling in that event,” she recalled.

Not to be defeated by skepticism, Crosby put in her earphones during her warm-up and turned up the tune “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten to drown out the doubt.

“So going in, getting into my blocks, I was telling myself, ‘You can do this!’ I wanted that gold medal so bad,” she said. “I don’t think I had ever been so hungry to get gold in my life.”

Her attitude gave her a boost, though not quite enough for first. Following her best start ever off the blocks, Crosby crossed the finish line with a bronze medal and a new personal best of 12.24 seconds.

Track Paralympian, Kym Crosby celebrates winning the bronze medal with the Rio 2016 mascot, Tom.

“I had no idea I got third place or got a personal best time until one of the camera guys told me,” she said, adding that she was on autopilot while running. “(I felt) so much happiness and relief. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was overcome with emotions.”

Her emotions intensified when Crosby realized that she was being handed an American flag to run around the track, a longstanding Olympic tradition after winning a medal in a final race.

“One of our team leaders was behind me asking me if I wanted a flag. I was like, ‘Did I hear her right? I get a flag?!’” Crosby said. “Watching the Olympics all these years and seeing them parade around with their flags after they’ve won is something that I always wanted. So when I answered her, tears just started flowing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life.”

Crosby also qualified for the Women’s 400m–T13 final held on September 17, and while she didn’t earn a medal in that race, she scored another personal best of 57.26 seconds in what she called a “tough” event—a victory in itself.

Born with albinism, Crosby lacks pigment in her skin, hair, or eyes, and has 20/400 vision, making her legally blind and sensitive to light. When it comes to racing, she relies in part on muscle memory.

“It can be difficult to run on the track with limited sight. I have to really watch the lines so I don’t cross over and get disqualified” she said. “The straightaways are pretty easy for me, but going on the curves are the harder part.”

Crosby’s brother, Darian, was the first to encourage the Yuba City native to join their high school track team after seeing his sister run the mile during a physical education class. After defying her own expectations, Crosby’s performance on the high school track eventually led to the college track when she came to Chico State, supported by an athletic scholarship, and competed for the women’s track team in 2012 and 2014.

Being an athlete at Chico State “helped open my eyes on what it’s like to compete against a wider variety of people,” she said. “Being on the Chico track team helped me get that mindset of, ‘I need to take this more seriously and start working my butt off to get to where I want to go.’”

Kym Crosby stands in the White House Blue Room after meeting President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden on September 29.
Crosby toured the White House Blue Room after meeting President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden on September 29.

Before the spring 2015 semester, she was called to join Team USA’s Paralympic team, which has been an “amazing” experience, she said.

“I felt like I was finally around people who understood me and my goals,” she said. “I train with other athletes who have disabilities and I automatically felt welcomed.”

With two new personal records and a bronze medal, Crosby was flying high when she returned to the United States. Her happiness soared to even greater heights when she made a very special trip to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden.

Crosby now plans to move back to Chico in October, Keystone in tow, and resume her kinesiology studies at the University by fall 2017—all while continuing as part of Team USA.