OLATHE, Kan. — Coaches often strive to inspire athletes to be their best. High school gymnasts in Olathe have an experienced voice who understands what it takes to break through barriers.
When Anna Sarol speaks, her athletes pay attention because they know she’s seen more than mere gymnastics meets. Sarol is in her fourth season as an assistant coach with the Olathe School District, working with athletes from all five local high schools.
Sarol was their age in August 2015 when she suffered a traumatic spinal injury, falling from the high bars during a workout. The fall damaged her spinal cord, leaving her to use a wheelchair. Sarol said she had to re-learn everything, even basic skills like tying her shoes.
“Self-development is like therapy,” Sarol said Wednesday.
Coaching became an almost immediate passion, and now, she’s spent four years working with female athletes in Olathe. In 2019, Sarol brought an entire stadium to tears of joy when she rose to her feet using a walker and leg braces, walking across a graduation stage to receive her high school diploma.
“With this four years of being able to coach, and being able to see the athletes thrive and being able to pass along my knowledge I had as an athlete, it bought the closure I needed. It’s been very healing,” Sarol told FOX4.
Now, Sarol is close to graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree. She said she’s also taken part in clinical studies concerning robotic exoskeletons, mental leg fittings designed to help people with disabilities walk again.
The lessons don’t stop in the gym. Sarol also remains active on social media, promoting campaigns meant to normalize the conversation around disability by concentrating on people’s abilities.
Sure, these gymnasts realize Sarol is in a wheelchair — but they don’t see her as being limited.
“She has a strong voice. She knows how to speak her voice and show her own opinions. The chair doesn’t hold her back to do anything. She can still get everything done,” said Alexa True, a gymnast from Olathe East High School.
“When you’re competing before an event or after an event, she’ll give you constructive criticism and say, ‘This wasn’t the best, but this you did really well,’” said Paige Schmideskamp, another Olathe East High gymnast.
“They all respect me so well, and they know I come from a position where I was that athlete and I can now pass it along to them,” Sarol smiled.
Sarol said she’s living proof that being knocked down doesn’t equal defeat, and one can always rise again.
Sarol’s gymnasts from the Olathe School District are preparing for their biggest test of the year. The Kansas State Gymnastics Meet is this Saturday at Olathe North High School, where a state champion will be crowned for 2022.
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