All of the recipients of our Athletes in Excellence Award are more than impressive athletes – they are incredible role models. Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt has gone above and beyond as an athlete, educator, and advocate. We are excited to share her story and name her a 2017 Athlete in Excellence. Dr. Forber-Pratt was nominated by Katy Sullivan.
ATHLETE IN EXCELLENCE: DR. ANJALI FORBER-PRATT
Anjali first encountered Para sport at the Boston Marathon when she was five years old. As she watched the race, Anjali was overcome with awe when a group of wheelchair racers swiftly moved down the course towards the finish line. As a young girl who also used a wheelchair, this was a huge moment in Anjali’s life – a turning point.
Anjali’s family adopted her from Calcutta (now Kolkata) when she was two and a half months old. Just after her first two months in the United States, doctors diagnosed Anjali with the neurological disorder called transverse myelitis. This disorder, caused by an illness, resulted in inflammation of the spine and, ultimately, paralyzation from the waist down.
From the time Anjali was very young, her parents instilled in her a strong sense of independence and determination. These traits would serve her well as she grew up to become an elite athlete, advocate for herself and other young people with disabilities, and researcher and professor.
After Anjali’s eye-opening experience at the Boston Marathon, she immersed herself in the world of sport, participating in track and field, downhill skiing, table tennis, and swimming. By the age of nine Anjali was competing at the national level in track and field.
ADVOCACY IN EDUCATION
While she was directing a great deal of time and energy in her pursuit of sporting success, Anjali knew sport was just one part of her life. Anjali excelled in school, but she also had to advocate for herself. While in an honors English class, a teacher asked Anjali why she was in the class and indicated Anjali wouldn’t be able to attend college due to her disability. On the first day of high school, Anjali was heading to her homeroom when she suddenly came upon a stairwell that led to the classroom. In response to the school’s inaccessibility, Anjali – at age 14 – took on the school in a lawsuit that lasted four years. All during the process Anjali understood she wasn’t doing this for herself, rather she was removing obstacles for future students with disabilities.
After graduating from high school, Anjali attended the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she graduated with the Highest Honors and earned her B.S. in Speech and Hearing Science and an M.A. in Speech Language Pathology. In 2012, Anjali also earned her Ph.D. in Human Resource Education from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
By the age of nine, Anjali was already an excellent wheelchair racer and competing at the national level for several years until she crashed in a road race when she was 13 years old. In the crash she had broken both wrists, which forced her to take a break from wheelchair racing. However, her determination and love of sports led her to shift her focus to downhill skiing, which placed less stress on her wrists. After many years of success in downhill skiing, Anjali found her way back to wheelchair racing in 2006. In 2008 she represented Team USA at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, where she won two Bronze medals. Anjali has also held records in the 4x100m and 4x400m.
1999 – Gold Medal in Giant Slalom at the Chevy Truck Disabled World Cup in Breckenridge, CO
2000 – Third place in the women’s open division in the Super-G at the Columbia Crest Cup
Track and Field Highlights
- 4x100m American Record
- 4x400m American Record
- 2012: Team USA Member (100m, 200m, 400m), Paralympic Games, London, England
- 2011: Gold medal, 200m, Silver medal 100m, 400m, IPC Athletics World Championships, Christchurch, New Zealand
- Fourth place, Boston Marathon World Record in the 200m, Notwill, Switzerland
- 2010: First place, 200m, 400m; second place, 100m; fourth place, 800m, U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, Miramar, Florida
- 2008: Bronze medal, 400m; Bronze medal, Women’s 4 x 100m relay, Paralympic Games, Beijing, China
- 2008: Second place, 100m and 200m; third place, 400m, Meet in the Heat, Atlanta, Ga.
- 2007: Gold medal, 100m and 200m, Bronze medal, 400m, Parapan American Games, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- 2003: Third place, 200m, 400m; Fourth place, 1500m, 800m, 100m, Junior National Wheelchair Games, Hartford, Conn.
COMMITMENT TO SERVICE
While Anjali’s passion for sports continues, she has also directed her energy towards her work as an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University and in helping grow Paralympic sport in developing nations. As a researcher she examines identity, equity, and empowerment for people who are different from the rest of their community in some way, with a focus on disability.
She has traveled to Bermuda, Ghana, India, and Zambia to help develop Paralympic sport. Here she leads clinics and workshops for athletes with disabilities, coaches, and volunteers. As part of her work, she also meets with officials about disability policy in the country. In addition to this Anjali has mentored youth with disabilities; presented at workshops, conferences, and seminars; and has visited hundreds of schools to speak to youth about Paralympic sport.
She has also been involved in many different organizations related to sport, disability, and education.
- 2017-2020 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Athlete Advisory Council Alternate Representative
- 2014-present Member, Advisory Committee, Funded Center for Disease Control (CDC) Grant on Weight Loss and Disability, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center/Baylor University
- 2013-present Member of Board of Directors for the Transverse Myelitis Association
- 2013-present Member of National Taskforce on Athletics for All for Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in school-based sport
- 2006-present Disability and Education Consultant to Shishur Sevay, orphanage for girls, Kolkata, India
- 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2008 Invited White House Guest
- 2016 Routledge Book Review & Endorsement: Sport and the Female Disabled Body
- 2016 Member of Disability Policy Action Working Group
- 2009-2015 Summer Athlete Representative on Board of Directors for Disabled Sports USA
- 2015 Ambassador for Boston 2024 Olympic & Paralympic Bid
- 2014 Volunteer at MidAmerica Games for the Disabled
- 2012-2013 Team for Tomorrow Ambassador
- 2013 Volunteer for Read Across America
- 2012, 2010, 2009 Service trip to Bermuda to help establish Paralympic Sport programs
- 2010 Service trip to Ghana to teach wheelchair track clinic and promote policy development for persons with disabilities
- 2008-2009 Volunteer with Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association
- 2007-2010 Volunteer Coach for Youth Champaign Heat Wheelchair Basketball Program
- 2007-2009 Ambassador for Chicago 2016 Olympic & Paralympic Bid
Learn more about Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt in this video:
And check out her Athlete Spotlight video for the 2017 Athletes in Excellence Award below and learn more about her service to the community!