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Independent. Confident. Passionate. These are the three words Arizona State University sophomore Katie Dickey uses to describe herself, and they have nothing to do with her wheelchair.

If someone saw her in the pathways of ASU, they might not guess she plays for a collegiate soccer team, coaches soccer and is training on the National team for her league in preparation of travelling to France to play in a world-cup game. They might not guess she has won numerous awards and accolades in the athletic realm.

They might not guess these things because Dickey has a genetic disease called Distal Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a neuromuscular disease that results in progressive weakening of the muscles and required her to use a wheelchair beginning her freshman year of high school.

“I don’t let my disability define me in any way, but it has had an impact on my life,” Dickey said. “I would like to think it has made me more open-minded and accepting of others.”

She said that her being in a wheelchair has given her opportunities. Dickey is a member of the United States Power Soccer Association and just recently filled one of the eight spots on the U.S. National team, which leaves for France in November. According to its website, on which she is featured, Power Soccer is the first competitive team sport designed specifically for power-wheelchair users, where two teams of four compete against each other with a 13-inch ball.

From her six years of playing Power Soccer, Dickey has earned numerous awards including Most Valuable Player in three national competitions. Not only is she an athlete, but she actively participates in the service sorority at ASU, Omega Phi Alpha, and with Ability Counts, a group for students with disabilities.

“I am very aggressive on the court and very vocal, completely different than the quiet girl everyone outside of soccer knows,” Dickey said. “Being in a wheelchair has helped me become an advocate for myself and others. … I also think I bring a unique perspective to the table.

“It has also given me a great sense of humor.”

Being in a wheelchair and playing Power Soccer has also shaped Dickey’s fellow teammate and ASU graduate Gabriel Trujillo. He has been a wheelchair user for the past 13 years because he has Hopkins syndrome, a rare form of polio that is prevalent in asthmatics.

“Before I became confined to a wheelchair, I was a very athletic person and enjoyed playing sports,” Trujillo said. “When I became a quadriplegic, I thought my days of participating in sports were over.

“But once I found Power Soccer, my competitive spirit was renewed, and I have been playing the sport for the past six years and am enjoying every minute of it.”

Tony Jackson, a 34-year-old ASU graduate, has needed the use of a wheelchair since birth. He always had the dream of being an athlete, and he said Power Soccer allowed him to fulfill that.

“Growing up, there was no such opportunity for me, so I am essentially fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing sports,” Jackson said.

Trujillo and Jackson share a similar viewpoint.

“You never realize how important life is and how lucky you are until you become so close to have it all taken away,” Trujillo said. “My disability has … showed me not to take anything for granted and enjoy the time that you have.”

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