Confidence through competition

By on August 18, 2012

Photo: Amanda (left) and Alex (right) Malawski surround their coach, Ben Berg. The trio worked together to prepare for the 2012 National Junior Disability Championships in Mesa, Ariz. Courtesy Photo

Sugar Grove twins train, travel to national athletic competition
by Amanda Niemi
SUGAR GROVE—Just as the world watched the closing ceremony for the Olympics this week, Sugar Grove celebrated its athletes’ own homecoming. Twins Alex and Amanda Malawski, 11, recently set personal and national records at the 2012 National Junior Disability Championships (NJDC) in Mesa, Ariz.

The championships brought together over 115 athletes from across the country. Teams traveled from as far as New Jersey, Florida and Texas to compete in track and field, archery, powerlifting, table tennis, swimming and pentathlon during the week-long event.

The Malawski’s represented the Fox Valley Special Recreation (FVSRA) at the NJDC. The two-person team set 13 personal records, including three national swimming records by Amanda.

They were accompanied by their coach, FVSRA Athletics Coordinator, Ben Berg.

“Some members of the U.S. Paralympic team got their start here. NJDC gives these young athletes great role models and something to work for,” Berg said. “Alex and Amanda definitely rose to the occasion at NJDC. The heightened level of competition spurred them on to new personal bests.”

Together, the twins took 11 first-place finishes, seven second places, two third places and “best small team.” This is their third time in the competition.

Born 11 weeks early, both twins have cerebral palsy and impaired motor functions due to strokes as infants.

“They’re getting stronger, and their endurance is getting better,” said their mother, Lori Malawski. “At this age, they try anything, and as they get older they’ll specialize.”

The parents noted greater rewards for both their children and the family as a whole. They said their kids have shown greater overall confidence since competing, and the parents have a strong support network of families who understand the challenges of raising children with disabilities.

Likewise, Alex and Amanda enjoy being mentors to younger, or newly disabled athletes.

“They’re not alone,” Lori said. “When they’re at school, you don’t see the kinds of disabilities they have. When we’re at a tournament, they fit right in.”

With a myriad of trophies and plaques from their past competitions, there is no doubt these two have a competitive drive and truly enjoy their time in sports.

“There is competition, but they’re only competing against kids in their same disability class and age,” said their father, Matt Malawski.

What’s the best part for the kids?

“I like seeing my friends from across the country,” Alex said.

Since returning from Mesa, Alex and Amanda have competed in Dare2Tri, a triathlon designed for those with disabilities. This was Alex’s first time in the triathlon, and Amanda’s second.

“There are not many kids that do this with them, and we wish there were, but not many people know about (FVSRA),” Lori said. “It’s helped them be more confident in themselves.”

Amanda currently plays for the Kaneland Youth Soccer Organization and wants to specialize in soccer. Both hope to compete in the 2016 Paralympics.

The Fox Valley Special Recreation Association exists to enrich the lives of people with disabilities. For more information, please contact FVSRA at (630) 907-1114 or visit