When most of us encounter obstacles in life, it gives us pause. We take the time to address our fears, determine options, and proceed around them. Our most recent Auger & Auger Disabled Scholar Award Winner, Erica Grace Marie Silvey, sails right over them. That’s not just because she’s a top-tier World Para Athletics Junior Championships long jumper and sprinter. It’s because she feels the drive to compete, to improve upon her last results, and to always seek that elusive feeling of besting yourself.
We chose Erica Grace Silvey as our Fall 2020 Disabled Scholar award winner precisely because of this determination. She played competitive soccer with other individuals in her age group since the age of 10, and while she was usually the only girl on the field with a prosthesis, she was foremost a potent striker and left forward other teams had to watch out for if they wanted a chance to win.
The support of her parents and her community helped position Silvey to get where she is today. And while an unfortunate injury may have sidelined her ambitions to continue competitive sports, she is not the type of person to sit by idly on the sidelines. Her mentorship of younger athletes with limb differences and her passion for excelling within any field she finds herself in will no doubt propel her towards greater and greater things.
Born With a Physical Impairment, She Refused to Let It Be an Impedance
Before Silvey was even born, ultrasound imaging revealed that she had fibular hemimelia: a condition where the fibula bone in the leg never develops. In addition, she was born with a shorter left femur and absence of my ACL and MCL in her left knee. Fibular hemimelia is extremely rare, affecting only 1 in 50,000 births, and it often necessitates amputation of the affected limb.
Silvey’s left leg was amputated at only 10 months of age, and she required follow-up surgery at several points in her early development. Her condition and numerous surgeries required her to use a temporary wheelchair at times, and she would frequently be unable to walk for months at a time during recovery and rehabilitation.
Despite these challenges, Silvey had one dream: to play competitive soccer. She joined a team at age five, and by 10 years old she was already preparing to qualify for an elite team. Her natural athletic abilities and mental focus made her a perfect fit for such a team, but first, she needed the proper equipment to address her limb difference.
“Because of my knee instability, I had to use a knee brace with my prosthesis, This was always challenging, as my prosthetics are made in Orlando and Tampa and the knee brace was not something easily created with a prosthesis.”
Silvey’s family saved and made sacrifices in order for them to be able to afford not just a left leg prosthesis but an adaptive knee brace that would accommodate all of the movements needed to be an effective soccer player. Once she acquired these devices, she was able to step up into the elite travel leagues in 7th grade. She also began playing for her high school team once she became a freshman. Her skills and her story landed her the title of US Youth Soccer Player of the Month in 2015.
Competing on the World Stage for Track & Field
One thing that sets Silvey apart from many individuals with limb differences is that for a long period she never played adaptive sports; she always competed alongside her other peers. However, she began to pursue adaptive track and field starting with a national event called the Endeavor Games in the summer of 2016. After intensive training and preparation, Silvey made waves by breaking records in her age class while competing in the 100m sprint, the 200m sprint and the long jump.
“The track was never an aspiration of mine, but it came to me naturally,” explains Silvey, “and after the Endeavor Games, I trained for another few weeks and went to Jr. Nationals. While I was there, I improved all of my times and beat the national records I previously set.”
Silvey then participated in the 2017 US Paralympics Track & Field National Championships held at the University of California, Los Angeles. Despite being the youngest in her competing class, she finished fifth and improved upon her national records previously set. Additionally, she placed second in the long jump competition.
Her performance earned her a spot on Team USA for the 2017 World Para Athletics Junior Championships. She and 19 other teammates got to train at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, and then compete on the international stage in Nottwil, Switzerland.
“Jr. Worlds was one of the most exciting things I have ever participated in,” Silvey told us. “I made many friends that live across the country and the world. Training with people who had limb differences like me made the experience even more special. One of my favorite memories was bonding with the team members that I went to Switzerland with. We became so close within the week we were there and I still am friends with some to this day.”
Aiming for High Performance in Higher Education and Beyond
In addition to her athletic pursuits — and despite the need for occasional medical-related absences — Silvey was able to also excel in academia. She obtained a 3.7 GPA across high school and intends to pursue higher education to accomplish her career goals.
Silvey says the subject she is most passionate about is science, and she is interested in pursuing a career in ultrasonography.
“This job is really intriguing and special to me because ultrasound was how my parents found out about my limb difference. It is also ideal for me physically because it allows me time to sit and rest while still working in a fast-paced work environment.”
Unfortunately, Silvey is no longer able to participate in competitive sports as a result of a torn meniscus and needed surgery. Even still, she is very active in supporting her teammates and mentoring youth who find themselves in a similar situation to hers.
“I am still very passionate about soccer and cheer on my teammates at the games,” Silvey says, “especially my lifelong teammate and best friend, Jenna.”
Silvey also participates in mentorship at amputee camps and athletic events in connection with the Never Say Never Foundation.
“I have always loved mentoring younger kids, especially those you have limb differences like me. I would tell them to always preserve and stay determined. There are going to be many challenges that they are going to face in their life whether it be through sports or people who underestimate their abilities.”
When mentoring youths, Silvey emphasizes setting goals for yourself and pushing past others’ expectations.
“I have never been the person to give up for something I wanted, and playing soccer and track always gave me the opportunity to prove people wrong and do things people said I couldn’t do. Being determined helped me accomplish all my goals despite what people thought about me.”
Of course, Erica Silvey would not be able to get to where she was without support from her loving, dedicated parents as well as others in the community.
“I would like to recognize my parents, Joe and Laura Silvey. They have always been my support system even when times were difficult. They always were there for me and took me to all my prosthetics appointments and to all my practices and games, no matter the situation.
“Another group of people I would like to recognize is the Never Say Never Foundation. This foundation, organized by Nick Stilwell and Regas Woods, changed my life. When I was in middle school, they raised money to get me a running blade. These are expensive, and my family never could have afforded one. This blade that was donated to me granted me the ability to pursue track. Without their help, I would have never had the unforgettable experiences that being on a track team allowed me to have.”
While undoubtedly Silvey will miss the rush that came from elite sports and international competition, she is nevertheless ready for the thrill of tackling what life has in store for her as an adult who is ready for anything and slowed down by nothing.