Becky Duncan knew Mallerie Badgett was a special person within a few minutes of meeting her.

UAB sophomore Mallerie Badgett is competing in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing from Sept. 6-17, but that’s not stopping her from being a full-time student this fall.

Badgett, a 19-year-old sophomore studying early childhood education, is in Beijing and will compete in the 2008 Paralympics from Sept. 6-17.

However, the Oxford native also intends to take a full schedule of classes this fall. She will be out of the country for more than a month, training and competing in the 100- and 200-meter wheelchair track competition. Badgett met with Duncan and other professors before leaving for Beijing Aug. 21 to discuss plans to continue her education while chasing her dream.

“I have great admiration for Mallerie,” says Duncan, the instructor of the English Composition online course Badgett enrolled in this semester.

“She is an inspiration —and not only to others with physical challenges. She’s an inspiration to me.

“Mallerie’s determination indicates that she is a person who doesn’t look to see what she can get by with,”  Duncan says. “She looks to see what she can do to push the boundaries of her disability. That is what I admire about Mallerie — what inspires me the most.”

Badgett will be taking courses in health education, English and teaching and technology. She will be taking 12 hours in courses that all are requirements for her degree.

“We’ve worked to keep her at full-time student status, taking as many online classes as possible so she can still be a student while she’s competing,” says Abby Westerhold, undergraduate advisor with the School of Education.

“That was something she wanted to do. She didn’t want to take a semester off, and now she will be able to jump back in next semester and keep going.”

Badgett says she’s thankful for the opportunity to continue her education while competing.

“My UAB professors have been so helpful,” she says. “They are being very understanding with all of this.”

From basketball to track
Badgett has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy that affects her legs more than her arms, but it never has discouraged her from being active. She always wanted to participate in sports as a young girl. She started wheelchair racing by chance.

She began playing basketball at the Lakeshore Foundation at age 14, and her coach suggested she participate in track in the off-season, largely as a way to stay in shape. “I tried it, and I loved it,” she says.

Her first wheelchair race was in the 2004 Dixie Games in Warm Springs, Ga. She qualified for the Paralympic team by competing in the 2008 Paralympic Trials in Tempe, Ariz., in June, finishing fourth in the 100-meter and third in the 200-meter races. This will be her first Paralympic Games.

Badgett says she practices on the track for 20 hours each week. Her best times are 40.82 in the 200-meter and 22.54 in the 100-meter races.

“The most difficult part of wheelchair racing is learning to steer the chair because it’s a lot of work and you have to learn how to adjust your body,” she says.

Writing abroad
Badgett will be doing her schoolwork while training and competing in Beijing. Even though she’s taking online classes, her workload will not be lighter.

Duncan’s English Composition class, for example, is writing-intensive.

“We turn out a major paper every few weeks,” Duncan says. “If you get behind, that can be difficult to overcome.”

Duncan talked with Badgett at length about the class schedule and assignment calendar. They talked about pacing and structure. The topic the class will write about is on climate change, selected by Duncan in conjunction with UAB’s Discussion Book for this year, Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change. The structure of the class and the campus resources on climate-change information helped ease any fears Badgett may have had about the class.

“I’m really excited we can offer this option for her in a core-curriculum course that gives the flexibility to help with the challenges she and other students face,” Duncan says. “There are some unknowns, specifically with her schedule in China, but I get the feeling she’s going to do all she’s capable of doing. And I’m going to do all I can to accommodate her and still maintain the academic integrity of her participation in the class.”

Badgett says she’s ready for the challenge ahead and is confident she can handle the dual workload.  She’s also ready for the games to begin.

“It’s so exciting it’s overwhelming,” she says. “I can’t describe how excited I am. I’m also a little nervous because I don’t know what to expect. It’s truly an honor and privilege to compete for my country.”

After this story originally appeared, Badgett finished sixth in the 100-meter and seventh in the 200-meter wheelchair track competitions in Beijing.