Anjali Forber-Pratt has been paralyzed from the waist down since she was an infant. It hasn't stopped the 28-year-old Natick resident from shaping life on her terms.
In 2007, she sped to 200- and 400-meter titles in wheelchair racing at the US Paralympic national trials.
A year later, she won two bronze medals at the Beijing Paralympics. Last year, she captured the 200-meter race at the World Championships.
This week, Forber-Pratt is in London, where she will compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Her first Paralympic Games, in Beijing, was “a childhood dream come true. It was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ ” Forber-Pratt said in a phone interview from England. “I didn't know what to expect. I'm more relaxed now. There's less of the unknown.”
One thing she knows is that her world record in the 200, which she set in May 2011, has been broken. It has given her added motivation, she said: “I'm looking to get the record back.”
Her teammate and friend, four-time Paralympian Jessica Galli, is now the record holder (28.93 seconds), setting the new mark at this summer’s US Paralympic trials. Forber-Pratt’s best time is 29.16.
The team had been training at a US Air Force base outside of London before moving to the Olympic Village on Sunday.
“This is my second Paralympics, and I've tried to help my teammates who are going through it for the first time. Just trying to get them to relax and ease their minds,” said Forber-Pratt.
She will compete in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races. “I feel really strong in the 200 and 400. When you're as driven as I am, you're constantly raising the bar. You set the goals higher. That's the exciting part.”
She was a tourist in London on her first visit in 2006, and returned a couple of years later in the Diamond League international race, a showcase for the Paralympics.
Forber-Pratt’s whirlwind approach to life isn't limited to athletic competition
“She's always got more than one thing going,” said her mother, Rosalind, a fifth-grade teacher in Holliston.
In May, Forber-Pratt earned a doctorate in human resources education from the University of Illinois. She also has a master’s degree in education. In addition, she has had a number of speaking engagements designed to inspire disabled people.
According to her mother, Forber-Pratt has had articles published on educating and mentoring people with disabilities.
Training and qualifying for London became a top priority. “It's been a heckuva year,” said Forber-Pratt. “I completed my PhD and here I am representing my country.”
A world traveler, Forber-Pratt took a nine-day trip to Ghana and ran clinics for wheelchair athletes. Catherine Sellers, performance director of the US Paralympic track & field team, credits Forber-Pratt with starting Bermuda’s wheelchair-racing team. She also arranged for athletes from Ghana to visit Illinois, where she is teaching in the university’s college of education.
“We've got one female from Bermuda and Ghana who will be in the London Paralympics,” said Forber-Pratt. “I'm so excited. It's a way for me to give back and help my sport to grow.”
An ambassador for the US Paralympic Committee, she received an Amazing Mentor Award from the organization earlier this year at a leadership conference in Colorado.
Born and abandoned in Calcutta, Forber-Pratt was placed in an orphanage and adopted by Rosalind and Larry Forber-Pratt, a Sudbury accountant. After a short time in the United States, she was found to have life-threatening transverse myelitis, a neurological disease that affects the spinal cord. It left her in a wheelchair.
Her battle had begun, and she met it head on. There was no self-pity. The key was to stay busy, do things. At age 5 she began competing in sports for the disabled. Track became her favorite. By 9, she was competing nationally in track and field events.
When Forber-Pratt was 13, her wheelchair crashed. Both wrists were broken. Her spine flared up. But determination had always been her strongest ally. After rehab, she took up downhill skiing, competing nationally.
In London, she'll be supported by her parents, her sister and brother, her grandmother, and college friends. “Team Anjali,” she calls it.
Forber-Pratt is scheduled to compete Sunday, as well as Sept. 6 and 8.
She often thinks about her life, the things she's seen, the setbacks, the triumphs.
“I've always been a very reflective person,” she said. “I continue to amaze myself. It's who I am. It's what I do. I sit back and think, ‘Did this all happen this week, this month, in my life?’”
The answer is always yes.
She will have back surgery next month, then “sit back for a while and decompress before I figure out what's next.” What about, say, five years from now? “I'd like to help people find their fire from within,” she said.
No better person to hear that message from.