Mary Helen Biller was born with spina bifida. Mary is currently retired, but for 25 years she spent her days as a preschool teacher and childcare provider. She is an active member and board member of the Spina Bifida Association of Iowa. In her free time, Mary enjoys spending time with family and working out so she can stay physically active.
Ava Cantelope, age 15, was born with a type of spina bifida called myelomeningocele. This is a neural tube defect that causes a gap between the bones in the spine that allows the meninges and the spinal cord to protrude from the back in infants. Ava currently attends Norwalk High School and wants to be an FBI profiler when she gets older. She loves sports and spending time with friends and family.
Ava regularly participates in Adaptive Sports Iowa’s sled hockey, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis and adaptive fitness programs. Her favorite program is sled hockey. She says, “Hockey is my favorite sport, and for me to find out I could play was truly an incredible opportunity.” Her and her dad attend many of the Iowa Wild home hockey games at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, and she is so passionate about this sport, she reached out to their marketing team to work with them to reach new students and grow the ASI sled hockey team. “I love sports and to be able to play them. I’m passionate about it because of the way it makes me feel – to have the freedom to play sports,” Ava explains.
In all her time at Adaptive Sports Iowa’s programs, Ava has made many memories and has brought laughter to the people around her. “Ava is a blast to work with! She always brings plenty of energy and sass to each program. She is very motivated to learn anything she possibly can in each sport she is a part of,” says Hannah Bowman, Director of Adaptive Sports Iowa. In addition, Assistant Marketing Director, Karlie Busch, says, “I’ve really enjoyed watching Ava get more comfortable with me over the past year since I started with Adaptive Sports Iowa. Now when I walk into a program with my camera, she immediately starts making funny faces at me, and we both let the sarcasm fly.” Ava connects with and entertains both the staff and other participants, with the pictures to prove it. That’s the best part of ASI she says – meeting and connecting with people with similar disabilities.
To other kids with disabilities, she wants to share, “Don’t let people tell you what you can and can’t do. You’re your own person, and other people don’t know what you’re capable of because they’re not you.”