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Ahead of Paris 2024, Paralympic Dad Trevon Jenifer Sends Message of Inclusivity: 'There's Life Outside of Your Disability'

As the athlete gears up for the Paris 2024 Summer Paralympic Games, he shares an inspiring message for families.

<p>GettyImages/Lintao Zhang/Staff</p>

GettyImages/Lintao Zhang/Staff

Fact checked by Sarah ScottFact checked by Sarah Scott

Trevon Jenifer is gearing up for the Paralympic Games this summer in hopes of bringing home another Gold for Team USA. But the dad of two is fulfilling his training goals around his children’s schedules. That means he’ll usually hit the gym when his 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son are off at their own extracurriculars.

“That way that when I'm home, I'm present and hanging out with them,” Jenifer says. “Because when I'm gone, I'm gone for like four or five days. or maybe two or three weeks at a time. So, I want to make sure that I give them the attention that they need during that time as well.”

Jenifer's two kids and wife, Laura Klass, are going to accompany him to Paris for the Summer Paralympic Games taking place August 28 to September 8. This will be the family’s first time together at a Paralympic game. But it will be the fourth go for the Paralympic wheelchair basketball player, who has won two gold medals (Tokyo 2020 and Rio 2016) and a bronze (London 2012).

The 35-year-old started competing in track and basketball at just 4 years old. He wrestled in high school before heading back into wheelchair basketball in college. He has been a positive force for inclusivity ever since, and is showing his kids, as well as the world, that one’s disability doesn’t have to hold them back.

Throughout his career, Jenifer says many kids from the wheelchair basketball community have told him they’ve been empowered by him and inspired to one day make Team USA, themselves. “We also get messages on Instagram or on Facebook from parents that are like, ‘Hey, my kid has X, Y, and Z disability and for them to be able to see what you've done and what you do, it gives them inspiration,” shares Jenifer.

Lessons on Inclusivity

Jenifer, a La Plata, Maryland native, who was born without legs, says growing up with a disability often brought some unwanted attention. “Throughout my years of dealing with the staring and the laughing and the pointing, or just the different looks that people tend to give, you learn things,” he says. “One of the biggest things that I learned is, as parents, what we do is we subconsciously train our kids not to interact in very uncomfortable situations.”

The athlete says he’s heard children ask their parents, “What’s wrong with him?” Parents typically try to remove their kids from the situation and/or tell them not to ask questions like that. “But what you're teaching kids subconsciously is that the interaction with that individual that's different is wrong,” notes Jenifer. “For me, I think it’s a teachable moment to understand that it’s OK that when you see something different, to be able to have a conversation, to understand what happened.”

That’s why Jenifer doesn't hesitate to open up to kids and explain his story when asked. He’ll also show them he can still do remarkable things, such as a headstand. “Now you're changing the misconception that people might have,” he says. “Now this kid's going through life, being like, ‘Yeah, I met this person that might not have legs, but I've seen someone be able to do something really cool, right on the spot.’”

Jenifer also acknowledges that of course, not every person with a disability is willing to have a conversation or share their story on-demand. But parents can also promote inclusivity simply by exposing their children to different people with different abilities so that diversity is normalized.

Letting His Kids Pave Their Own Path

At home, Jenifer is also teaching his kids to follow their athletic passion, meaning giving them space to try various sports and decide what they want to pursue.

His daughter has tried soccer, volleyball, and jiu jitsu before realizing her love for Irish dance. “It’s reenergizing for me to see her find her passion the way that I found basketball,” he says. “The way that she lights up when she wants to go to practice—that's something that you can't teach.”

His son is playing soccer, flag football, basketball, and tee-ball. “He's just playing any sport, soaking it all in, but I can't wait to see where his passion takes him,” says Jenifer.

While Jenifer says he’d love for his kids to follow his path with basketball, he believes it’s critical for parents to allow their kids to pave their own way. Letting kids explore their own interests can enable them to develop a sense of self, which helps boosts their confidence too, according to the Child Mind Institute.

Understanding Commitment

One thing Jenifer's career has taught him is the commitment it takes to make your dreams come true.

“Being a professional athlete, I've missed first words, I've missed birthdays, I’ve missed a ton of sporting events, and it doesn't get any easier,” he says. “But understanding that with that level of sacrifice comes great reward.”

It’s especially harder now that the kids are older and can truly understand when their dad is gone. It takes a village and Jenifer says he couldn’t have done it without a strong support system, especially from his wife, whom he met while attending the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

“I wouldn't be able to do it without her—she makes the impossible possible for me,” says Jenifer. “She's seen me at my lowest and she's seen me at my highest, but she's been the one thing that's continued to push me to be the best version of myself.”

Through his dedication and hard work, Jenifer is showing kids everywhere that they can set their own limits, despite any kind of disability.

“There’s life outside of just your disability,” he says. "I’m a firm believer in that we wear all types of hats. Yes, I'm a disabled man, but I'm also a proud father. I'm a proud full-time employee and three-time Paralympic medalist. It’s giving hope for people to understand that it's not just your disability.”

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