Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 30-year-old Savoy resident Amanda McGrory, a professional athlete and a graduate student, teaching assistant and research assistant at the University of Illinois, chats with The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli.
What interests you the most right now?
3-D printing. We've been experimenting with it at our training center to replicate our expensive and custom-made wheelchair racing gloves. It's completely changed the way we manufacture and customize what was once a very complicated piece of equipment.
Tell us something few people know about you.
I love to organize things. I find it to be super relaxing to clean out my closet.
So far, what's your best time in the wheelchair marathon?
1:36.37 at the 2011 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn.
Favorite marathon to race?
Chicago. The city has become a second home to me, and it's so cool to race through familiar streets, past friends and spectators who know your name.
Were you at the 2013 Boston Marathon? Did the bombing there affect you or your desire to compete in marathons?
I was. I finished third that year and was completely unaware that the bombing had taken place until I saw the live coverage on TV. The entire city was shut down, and we had an incredibly difficult time trying to get to the airport.
I truly believe that the purpose of such attacks is to instill fear in those that experience them. Quitting marathons would have been admitting defeat and allowing the terrorists to win. It in no way decreased my desire to continue competing, and I actually stuck to my schedule and raced a second marathon six days later in London.
What's been your most meaningful award so far?
Winning gold in the 5,000-meter race at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics was incredible.
Who's been the biggest influence on your life?
My parents have both been huge influences, as has my coach here at the UI, Adam Bleakney.
What did you enjoy most about being the marshal in the Parade of Lights last week?
It was great to be a part of such a fun event in Champaign and to see so many people from the community I know. It was also a fun way to end a great week with my family before they all packed up and headed back to Pennsylvania.
I noticed you majored in psychology. Why? What are the most important things you've taken away from that subject?
I ended up as a psych major because I was running out of time to pick something, and it sounded interesting. I think I now have a greater appreciation for how people's experiences shape their lives. It's a good reminder not to judge a book by its cover — usually there's a lot more to the story.
Are you taking courses now at Parkland, and if so, which ones?
No courses at Parkland at the moment. I'm currently working on a master's degree from the UI in library and information science.
Why is your Twitter handle "alittlechipped"?
I came to the UI in 2004 on a wheelchair basketball scholarship. As an act of teenage rebellion, I got my tongue pierced and promptly chipped a tooth on it. My basketball coach noticed, began calling me "Chip," and the nickname stuck.
What's your favorite app?
I noticed you love food. What are your favorite dishes? Favorite restaurants?
I love cheese, and butter, and pickles! Mac and cheese has always been a favorite, and so has falafel. Whenever my family comes to town, Farren's is always the first stop.
What are your favorite places in C-U to hang or for dates?
I love the Art Theater Co-op. I also love to see shows at The Accord and meeting friends at the Blind Pig or Quality.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
I get up at 7 a.m. for 8:15 a.m. practice. I usually make coffee, have something small for breakfast and get organized for the day — pack clothes for after training, snacks for work, depending on my schedule.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?
At the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, two of my Illinois teammates and I pulled off back-to-back sweeps in the women's 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters. Watching three American flags be raised from the podium while the national anthem plays is one of the coolest experiences of my life.
Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?
I watched the entire "Gossip Girl" series — pretty sure that counts as a guilty pleasure.
What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?
I'm currently reading "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. I really love Kurt Vonnegut and Oscar Wilde.
Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?
Antarctica. Why not?
Tell me about your favorite pet.
My family has always had huskies, which I love. I'm not yet responsible enough to have my own pets, so sometimes I borrow my best friend Brian's. He has two mutts named Gambit and Ace Michael. Gambit loves to play fetch and Ace is terrible at all behaviors that come instinctively to most dogs.
What's your favorite sports team?
I love the San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan is my favorite athlete.
If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?
I really like being a person.
What's your best piece of advice?
After a few rough racing seasons where I was pretty unhappy with my performances, I had a meeting with my coach where he told me to stop trying to be the 2008 version of Amanda and be 2016 Amanda. The takeaway: Don't be afraid of growth and change. Sometimes it's even better than what you had before.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
I worked in the Text Conversion office at DRES (Disability Resources & Educational Services) on campus in 2004. I think I made $9 an hour.
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?
Last winter, my coach and I made the decision to change my equipment setup for the first time in almost a decade. I was scared to change something that worked for so long, but I was so frustrated with my recent performances, I was ready to take a risk. I figured that good or bad, at least the change would bring on new experiences and new opportunities. Luckily for me, I actually ended up faster and stronger than ever before.
Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?
None. I am who I am because of where I've been. And I really like who I am.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I freak out for about five minutes, take a small nap and then sit down and plan things out logically. Naps cure all.