What Can Kids Learn from the Mindset of Paralympic Champions?
Our kids have been through a lot over the last nearly two years since COVID changed—perhaps forever—the way we live, learn, and work. Couple this with the many adult-sized challenges and conflicts that loom large on the news and echo in our hearts and minds, almost on a daily basis.
Talk about a teachable moment.
This time of uncertainty, disruption, and anxiety is prime to help kids develop essential life skills like self-management, self-awareness, and responsible decision-making.
So, when Steve Mesler, co-founder, president, and CEO of nonprofit Classroom Champions, invited BrainPOP to participate in the Champion Mindset initiative, we saw an opportunity to collaboratively engage and empower families, educators, and kids with fresh, conversation- and action-inspiring content. As an Olympic gold medalist, and board member of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Steve is intimately familiar with the “grind” that precedes all great accomplishments. His work at Classroom Champions revolves around connecting kids with professional athletes who embody a growth mindset. When I interviewed him for the BrainPOP blog in August, he shared this personal anecdote: “I love watching my four-year-old daughter listen to someone that just reached the dream they had since they were her age, or watch an interview after someone fell a hundredth of a second short. That’s how we want our children to see the world: They can accomplish anything. It’s going to be hard and take a long time, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but you have to have grace no matter what.”
BrainPOP’s mission is to empower kids to shape the world around them and within them, and an interview with two barrier-breaking athletes felt like the perfect way to explore that ethos. Our team had the honor to connect with Lieutenant Commander Dan Cnossen, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor, and a gold medal-winning Paralympic biathlete and cross-country skier. He shares his remarkable story of surviving a life-altering injury in Afghanistan, and thriving again as a decorated athlete. He honed his champion mindset during his grueling military training: “The way that I found was to try to be a leader, and to try to take care of my teammates, take the focus away from my own pain and suffering. And to also realize that my teammates depend upon me, and that they’re counting on me.”
We were likewise thrilled to meet Sam Bosco, a bronze medal-winning Paralympic cyclist. Sam began biking as a child, riding to school with her dad. “I loved how I felt when I conquered a trail, especially if it was a harder trail, because I could take on anything that I put my mind to.” In middle school, she underwent multiple corrective bone surgeries that required long and difficult recoveries, but did not suppress her spirit. She credits her parents with “reminding me and instilling in me that just because I have a disability does not mean I’m incapable of something.”
More than ever, kids need our support to persevere through challenges with grit and grace in their personal journey toward resilience. The intention isn’t to encourage every child to become an Olympian or Paralympian, or even a lettered high school athlete. Rather, it’s about giving them the tools they need to move confidently through the world and achieve their goals.
In our minds, Dan and Sam are champions—and inspiring role models—on and off the Paralympic stage.
Watch our Paralympic Games movie for the full interview, then enjoy more inspiring Olympic and Paralympic athlete stories on the Champion Mindset hub at https://yourchampionmindset.com/.
Ilana Kurizki is VP, communications and social impact at BrainPOP.