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Olympic paratriathlete says sports transformed his life

Patients and parents share challenges and opportunities at Stride seminar

two speakers during the Reaching Your Stride seminarOlympic paratriathlete Mohammad Lahna described how sports transformed his life when he spoke at the Reaching Your Stride seminar at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California on Saturday, October 13. Patients and their families attended the seminar which focused on the challenges, opportunities and accomplishments of individuals with limb differences. 

Born without a femur in his left leg, Lahna described his journey as a young boy growing up in Morocco with limited resources to his success as an Olympic paratriathlete. He brought home a bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, and his goal is to win a gold medal in Tokyo in 2020.

“We can do more than we ever imagined if we dare ourselves to push a little harder, go a little further,” Lahna said. “You are going to get a big, big reward for all the hard work that goes into achieving your goal.”  

That sentiment was echoed by his wife Ru Chen, a mechanical engineer who helped design the prosthetic leg her husband wears to compete. “You have to make that first step. It’s not going to be perfect, but it will get you closer to your goal.”

Following the opening address, two panel discussions gave families an opportunity to learn from the experiences of parents as well as teens and young adults treated at the Northern California Shriners Hospital. One panel discussion was with parents, and another included patients and former patients.

After years of living with pain caused by injuries to her leg sustained in an automobile accident, Shriners Hospitals for Children patient Samara Mejia struggled with the decision to amputate her leg. But once she made the decision, she stopped fearing loss and turned her focus to new possibilities. “I started realizing what I could do, and now I am limitless,” said Samara, who ran her first 5k less than a year after being fitted for her first prosthetic leg.

“Life is all about choices. Shriners Hospital is the best choice I have ever made,” said Samara’s mother, Carmen Mejia.

Peer panelists Carly Davis and Tal Oppenheimer were each born without a fully formed arm. They described how other people have reacted to their physical differences.

Davis recalled her organic chemistry professor telling her, “I am concerned that you won’t be able to keep up with what’s going on.” To the contrary, Davis said she consistently was one of the first students to complete lab work. The experience is a testament to her motto: “Don’t let someone else’s assumptions shape who you are.”

Oppenheimer, who works at Google as a product manager, was surprised by the feedback she received after giving one of her first professional presentations. “The vast majority of comments were about what I looked like. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to talk again because the comments were about what I looked like rather than the content,” Oppenheimer said.

Joan Weideman said that even though her son Kyle was born without a hand, “He did everything and anything he really wanted to do.” He chopped wood, fished, volunteered at the San Francisco Zoo and played rugby for the University of Colorado at Boulder. During his years as a patient, the orthotics and prosthetics specialists designed devices to help him achieve his goals, including reeling in a fish.

The Reaching Your Stride seminar concluded with a community resource fair. Participants included Access Leisure Paralympic Sports, Achieve Tahoe, Ossur, Bond Driving School, Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services (POPS) – West, LLC, and waterskiing champion Elisha Nelson.

From the opening address to the interactive resource fair, a consistent theme emerged – physical challenges need not be obstacles. Those who attended Reaching Your Stride were reminded that the professionals at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California provide the care and expertise to help kids with physical challenges reach their full potential.

child on adaptive bicycle while staff member looks on