When we first met Lacey Henderson, we were instantly blown away by her ambition and character as we listened to and shared her story. She has become an amazing part of HYLETE, not only an inspiration to other female athletes but to our entire community. Lacey embodies everything we look for in an athlete who shares her incredible journey in the hopes that it may inspire others to feel capable of achieving their own goals.

Lacey Henderson was just nine years old when her leg was amputated above the knee in a lifesaving measure after the diagnosis of a rare soft tissue tumor in her knee. It was a tough time for a young girl, but Lacey's focus wasn’t on the negative. Instead, raised with the mindset that if you want something in life you'll find a way to make it happen – no matter the odds against you – an energetic and active Lacey didn't hesitate to take on the toughest of challenges, including highly competitive cheerleading in high school and at the college level for Denver University.

Now, she's a 2016 Rio Paralympian and the Americas region (both North and South America) record holder in her competition categories for the long jump. She has used her athletic career as a way to launch new and fun conversations that normalize disability and feeling "different." She has hosted her own podcast and web series called "Picked Last in Gym Class," as well as hosting for Microsoft's, “In Culture” podcast with an entire season dedicated to accessibility and what that really means.

While she continues to train for the Tokyo summer games, amidst a Pandemic; she is working on her MBA and directing the conversation now celebrating each person's differences. She truly believes that it is those differences that will ultimately unite us all. Learn what being an athlete means to Lacey, how she's adapted in the last year, and what she does to maintain a positive body image and mental health.

What does being an athlete mean to you?

Being an athlete means I get to use my body in a productive way to achieve the physical goals I set for myself. I am so lucky that I am still in love with track and field and I get to dedicate a big part of my life to mastering a very specific craft and being able to do that has given me crazy wisdom that applies to different areas of my life. It's really a gift and it's taught me how to be a better human.

How have you learned to adapt in the last year?

Oh man, last year (and seemingly this year so far) has been tough. I forget I have a tendency to be super rigid in my training and just routine in general so last year reminded me that I need to have grace with myself when the world says no to what I am trying to do. Of course, with time we find new ways to train, facilities that are open during a pandemic, etc. but I think the biggest adaptation is being okay with everything not going exactly to the written plan. The biggest piece is having faith the goal is still at the end and the journey is what is flexible.

How do you maintain a positive body image?

Having a positive body image is hard! Some days are better than others for sure. Being bombarded by social media with what seems like other women who have perfect bodies, perfect lives, perfect *everything* - it's super hard not to compare myself to what I'm seeing. I remind myself often that social media is more often than not curated for a specific image; it's not real. I like to look at my body and see all of the things it can do and how strong it is. I really have been leaning into finding my own "curated image" different from others, because we are in such a cool time where being our authentic, genuine, and different selves is an asset. So I am trying to make my specific look and body the aesthetic for me.

What does mental health mean to you?

Mental health is just as important if not more important than physical health. It is how we function in the world, how we talk to ourselves, and even what we can create. This year has been hard for everyone, new stressors for new reasons and I would be lying if I said I was managing it perfectly. I'm so lucky I have good resources like a sports psychologist, close friends who like deep talks, and even a journal to keep my mental health in check. It is hard to achieve any goals if your mind is not in the right spot so I take my mental health very seriously.

How do you maintain positive mental health and what advice do you have for others?

I have no qualms about panic texting my psychologist, or friends close to me. I think being honest with where you are mentally and emotionally, even if it seems silly, is a huge step in maintaining your mental health. I think embracing whatever you're feeling, even if just for a moment, validates what you're going through and can help with coping to get through the tougher times. I feel like I'm always learning new ways to manage my mental health, but if there is any advice I would give is find an outlet, I prefer a trained counselor, but you could even start small like a journal, really anything that gives you a place to get some of the bad gunk that comes along with mental health a different place to live than inside of your head.

Keep up with Lacey at laceyjhenderson.com and @laceyisyourfriend