When she was four months pregnant, doctors told Gretchen Berthiaume that her child would never walk—probably never do anything but sit on a couch. “Never, never, never,” is all she heard. Her daughter Gabbi was born with spina bifida, a condition characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord and meninges, which can lead to paralysis.
Berthiaume says she and her husband weren’t going to take “never” for an answer.
“My husband and I said ‘Oh heck no,” Berthiaume says. “We would look for whatever opportunities we could find for our child.”
Flash forward 12 years, and Gabi, or the “energizer bunny” as her mother calls her, can barely find time to stop moving. Gabi participates in multiple adaptive sports programs her parents have helped her find, including track and field, dance and hockey. She has finished five triathlons.
Gabi’s energetic, resilient personality is apparent through our phone conversation.
While participating in her last triathlon in Wauconda, Ill., Gabi crashed and had to be taken off the course in an ambulance. Berthiaume describes the incident as pretty scary, recalling Gabi’s “smooshed and roadrashed” face. Fortunately she didn’t break any bones.
“Mommy, I was fine, OK,” Gabi pipes up from the background. “And at least we got to have ice cream!”
The 12 year-old was not deterred by her accident and she has already signed up for a 3-day triathlon clinic that will take place in May.
Gabi was first invited to participate in a triathlon by Keri Serota, co-founder and executive director of Dare2Tri, an organization that helps people with disabilities participate in triathlons. Gabi first met Serota while Serota was working at the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association in Lake Forest. Gabi has been participating in GLASA programs since she was six years old.
“She [Serota] just inspires the kids to do their best, be their best and have fun,” Berthiaume says.
Serota has asked Gabi to speak on a panel of young athletes at Dare2Tri’s Play For All event for the last four years and she will speak again this year. The event will take place at the Chicago Children’s Museum on Feb. 14, and will present a variety of interactive adaptive sports activities as well as the athlete panel.
When asked about what she will say to the audience and her peers at the event, Gabi responds emphatically.
“I will be talking about the sports that I do—and I will hopefully change the world.”
Please see information below for event details.
What: Dare2Tri Play For All day
The Chicago Children’s Museum will open an hour early on Feb. 14 to host families of children and veterans with disabilities.
Dare2Tri will be displaying a variety of hands-on, adaptive sports activities including a See, Touch and Feel prosthetics display, goalball, roller sled hockey and an athlete panel. The panel will feature triathletes, like Gabi, who were either born with a disability or acquired one later in life. The athletes range from ages 9 to 16 and will share their stories about overcoming adversity. It’s about kids talking to kids, says Keri Serota, Dare2Tri executive director.
Sign up here.
Where: The Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave., Chicago
When: Saturday, Feb. 14
The organization: Dare2Tri works to help people with disabilities train for and participate in triathlons. The idea for the program started in 2010 when three friends and triathletes—Keri Serota, Melissa Stockwell and Dan Tun—were brainstorming ways to get more people with disabilities involved in the sport. Serota, Dare2Tri’s executive director, was working for Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) at the time and says Dare2Tri’s original goal was to be another program that organizations like GLASA or park districts could offer to their communities.
The founders initially hoped to serve eight to 10 individuals. The three friends felt they needed more legitimacy as a staff and wrote a grant to the US Olympic committee for the funding to become certified triathlon coaches. Then, in September of 2012, Serota left her position at GLASA to build the Dare2Tri organization full-time. In 2014, Dare2Tri served over 230 athletes ranging from 6 to 71 years old. Their athletes mostly compete in local competitions in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin but their “elite team,” a group of extremely dedicated athletes, competes in national and international competitions.