Shannon Calega has had over 350 bone fractures and uses a power chair to get around campus, but on Friday she will run her first 5K.
For the past year and a half, Calega, director of leadership engagement for the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement (OSLE), has been working with a personal trainer (PT) setting goals to run the Disney Princess 5K on Feb. 19. The 5K is presented by the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital and it starts and finishes in Walt Disney World’s Epcot.
“I was really really lucky that I started working with an amazing PT who set some goals for me and it was just supposed to help build strength and stop breaking,” Calega said. “I have a disability called osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), which means fragile bones. What happens is that my bones break easily. I’ve fractured over 350 times and I’ll continue to fracture, but one way to help fight against it is through exercise, which I don’t really love to do, but it builds bone mass and muscles.”
Calega has had this goal for over a year and has faced several challenges. The most difficult aspect of this endeavor for Calega was having her mind conquer her body especially as she is not the most patient with herself.
“My body doesn’t necessarily allow me to get where my mind is and so I go three times a week and work with my PT,” Calega said. “I also do additional endurance classes like kickboxing or Zumba the other three days a week so I’m working out six days a week and my mind says ‘I should be able to do the whole 5K no problem in the time allotment,’ but my body doesn’t necessarily agree.”
With all of these challenges, Shannon has received an overwhelming amount of support from her fellow colleagues, students, friends and family. One of her biggest supporters is her co-worker, Julie LeBlanc, who serves as the Assistant Director of Leadership in OSLE.
“This is the perfect example of someone setting a really awesome goal and working towards it,” LeBlanc said. “I was just really thrilled when she told me and it has also inspired me to kind of start running and walking and really training for this 5K. I’ve never done a Disney 5K before and I think that it will be a really cool celebration of her reaching her goal.”
The Office of Student Leadership and Engagement has joined in this journey to run alongside Calega.
“All of the OSLE staff constantly check in with her because we know she trains so much throughout the week asking her how her training is going and being there with her throughout this journey,” LeBlanc said. “Most of us in the office signed up for it as well so we’ll all be there to walk with her and see her cross the finish line, and just see her through this journey.”
Another way several staff members of student affairs surprised and motivated Calega was by making a video titled ‘Watch This Ellen DeGeneres – Shannon – Disney Princess 5K’ sharing their support and love towards her journey. They also started using it as a campaign to have Calega appear on The Ellen Show to share her motivational story.
Taylor Bair, a senior biology major, has had the opportunity of working the Leadership Assistant to Calega for the last year and a half, but their relationship goes deeper. Bair is a member of Cohort Five of President’s Leadership Fellows, an organization which Calega advises. Bair is also a sister of Alpha Chi Omega from the Gamma-Pi chapter at UT, which Calega is also a member of.
Calega’s obstacles aren’t limited to her physical abilities. She and other supporters have petitioned restrictions placed on the race in order for her to fully participate.
“You can’t have strollers, you can’t have walkers, you can only really have yourself and your legs,” Bair said.
Bair has a had an even deeper connection with Calega through a connection with Bair’s grandmother as she also experiences a disability. Bair’s grandmother is paralyzed on her left side which allows her to only use a scooter to get around.
“I can’t see or talk to my grandmother all the time when I’m here so Shannon has become my rock,” Bair said. “She does so much more for others than she does for herself, so being able to support her and to help her finish the race is going to be an emotional reward for all of us, but especially Shannon. ”
As Calega prepares to achieve her next goal on Friday, she has one piece of advice to anyone who has a goal they want to achieve: “Find someone who can see something in you that you can’t see in yourself,”.
“When you find that person, don’t give up because if someone is taking that much time to invest in you then they can sometimes see your abilities better than you can see,” Calega said. “So believe in that person and kind of trust the process and know that you can do it.”