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San Diego State University's First Adaptive Student-Athlete Shares Her 'Seeds of Hope' Journey

Nov 29, 2018 4:35:39 PM / by Brittany Gustafson

Michelle Cross is the first student-athlete to represent San Diego State University in adaptive track and field. SDSU continues to take steps to broaden its adapted athletic program vison, beginning with Michelle. This is the first part in a series that will follow Cross’ journey as SDSU’s first official adaptive student athlete. The college freshman shares her experiences leading up to her admittance to SDSU as well as her advice for other adaptive athletes seeking to compete at the college level.

ABC Medical is proud to have helped the program get its feet on the ground in 2017 as part of our Seeds of Hope Initiative.  Earlier this year, ABC Medical held a 2-day Adaptive Sports Showcase at SDSU with the help of San Diego State University Aztec Adaptive Sports Club members. This showcase featured wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, and sitting volleyball demonstrated by Paralympians as well as current and former Team USA athletes. We hope SDSU will grow and match that of other well renowned collegiate adaptive athletic programs. Cross hopes to lead SDSU to this goal.

We appreciate the time and effort Michelle put into telling the beginning of her journey as an adaptive athlete. By sharing her journey, we hope to inspire other student-athletes who are looking to make their way into a college program but don’t know where to start.

Brittany Gustafson & Işıl Tanyeri



Michelle’s Background and Why She Chose Running

I have a very athletic family. My dad has been running for over 20 years. He has run multiple half and full marathons and qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2010 and in 2019. My sister Emily ran cross country and track through her 4 years of high school. I ran with her for 2 years, during her last 2 years of high school. She continued into college but quit at the beginning of her sophomore year. She is the main reason why I got into running. My mom also runs, but not competitively.

I started running cross country and track during my freshman year of high school. However, I did not run sprints until my sophomore track season. I was running the mile during a meet when I fell just after the gun went off. The coach from the opposite team saw that I was running ‘a bit off.’ He asked my distance coach why I was running like that. I told him that I have Cerebral Palsy. That same coach was the person who informed me of the upcoming State Meet with a Para division and encouraged us to look into it.. As a result of that, I slowly transitioned into sprint events. I qualified for the State meet and ran in all 3 events.

During my junior year of high school, I met Ahkeel Whitehead, who is a Rio 2016 Track & Field Paralympian and the current director of Aztec Adaptive Sports at San Diego State. Ahkeel saw my times at the state meet and gave me tips about how to get into a good college, possibly SDSU as a student-athlete. He told me to continue competing in the Para division. The goal was to attend as many meets as possible and keep improving my stats. Since that conversation with Ahkeel, I ran at the National meet at UCLA which qualified me to run at Junior Worlds in Switzerland.”


The Long Journey towards SDSU and The Showcase that Changed it All

During my first visit at San Diego State, some academic advisors had looked over my transcripts and told me , there was “no way” I would get into SDSU, my dream school at that point. We had a plan that I would attend Southwestern Community College. Which is also in San Diego and then transfer to SDSU after 2 years of completing high marks in gen-ed courses. I decided not to apply.

 In January 2018, my family and I went to visit SDSU to watch the Aztec Adaptive Sports that Ahkeel invited me to. One of the academic advisors happened to be there. She was sitting behind us and asked about my college choices and application process.  She suggested that we apply under special consideration, a broader range of criteria in evaluating my application. I would have to provide two letters of recommendation, a copy of my transcripts, and an essay of why I should be accepted at SDSU.

I immediately started this process when I got home that day. I sent in my application but didn’t hear anything back even though my classmates had gotten responses, including my sister.  I emailed admissions and asked why I haven’t got a response back. They replied that they were are still reviewing my application.  One day, as I was driving to school, I got a text from my mom to call her back immediately. I called her back right away.

“Guess what?”, she asked.

I immediately knew from the sound of her voice that I was accepted!


A Home Away from Home

I chose SDSU mainly for Adaptive Sport, but also because San Diego has always felt like a 2nd home to me. My mom grew up in San Diego and attended SDSU and graduated back in the 80s. Both her parents and her sister live down here and her best friend. I do love the area of San Diego as well. I am a Criminal Justice major. I am leaning towards CSI, but I am keeping my options open. Most of my college classes don’t require homework, the test is your grade. I do train more now that I am in college. I am starting to do weight room training which I have never done before. During my track years of high school, my workouts were not that difficult, so it is a big transition from training in high school.


Don’t Give Up!

To any student-athlete who is considering applying, be hopeful and have faith. If you don’t get in, it is not the end of the world. There are other possibilities.

If you feel that SDSU is your first choice, then maybe consider a junior college and then transfer. Good luck!

Authored by Michelle Cross, SDSU'22


Topics: collegiate adaptive sports programs

Brittany Gustafson

Written by Brittany Gustafson

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