Thirteen years after he was adopted from Korea, Isaac French (15) has his eyes set on competing in the 2020 Paralympics event in Japan. Born with a limb difference that affected his legs, Isaac is dedicating himself to becoming a competitor in the Trunk and Arms division of the U.S. Para-Rowing team.
A Family Tradition Leads to a Shot in the Paralympics
Rowing has been a part of the French family for many years. “It’s a wonderful way for the kids to grow and mature in their teamwork and responsibility. The older siblings have been part of the team, and then as each child gets old enough, he joins the team,” Isaac’s mother Aimee explained. Now, brothers Isaac, David (15) and Daniel (13) all compete on the same team together.
Isaac and David have even rowed together in several regattas. “I think they will have more and more opportunities in the next few years to do that. Dave is also tremendously strong, so they make a good team,” Aimee shared.
Isaac is the only member of his team that is an adaptive rower, but he caught the attention of a representative from U.S. Rowing as she traveled across the country visiting different teams with adaptive rowing programs.
“She got really excited about his potential. She started putting his name out there and sending us information about races” said Aimee.
There weren’t a lot of local opportunities for him, so Isaac’s first big adaptive race was the Bayada Regatta in Philadelphia. There are a number of different classifications in these races—such as Trunk and Arms, Arms and Shoulders, Physical Disability, Visual Impairment, and Intellectual Disability. The rowers are paired with appropriately-matched competitors during the events. Isaac is in the Trunk and Arms division because he has full use of his upper body but not a full leg extension that other rowers might have.
“In general, adaptive rowers tend to be older. There are a number of people who came into disability later in life due to accidents or injuries sustained in the service, while others were born with differences but discovered rowing later. Isaac is really young and really strong, so it generated a lot of excitement around his potential in this,” Aimee explained.
To prepare for a shot in the Paralympics, Isaac is keeping busy this summer. He will compete in a number of races in different states along with training with his coach. He’s also training with a personal trainer from a local gym who is donating his time, and meeting with a nutritionist to make sure he eats enough to meet the needs of his body as he continues to build muscle and strength. Because his regular schedule is over during the summer, he spends a couple hours a day ERGing in the garage. Then, once fall resumes, he’ll go back to his team training schedule.
Watching her sons compete, and witnessing the dedication that Isaac brings to this opportunity continually inspires Aimee, “To see him out there in the really early light of dawn, by himself in the mist: he’s doing it. It makes me think about how he will soon be out in the world on his own…makes me teary.”
Adopting a Child with a Limb Difference
The Frenches didn’t start their adoption process planning to adopt a child with a limb difference. Before Isaac joined their family, Aimee and her husband, Charles, had three biological children and had adopted David. Then they fell in love with Isaac’s picture on Rainbowkids.
“When you’re looking at any kind of special need, unless it’s something you grew up with or are familiar with, it can be scary. We expected Isaac to have a lot of challenges because of his differences,” shared Aimee. “I was so frantic about getting everything that we would need, but it turned out that all he needed was stools so that he could reach things around the house. I purchased a stroller that would hold up to 75 pounds thinking he would need it. But he preferred to run around on his knees. I remember sitting in a museum, with my two children who have full use of their legs sitting in the specialized stroller, as Isaac ran around us.”
“The limb difference is a small part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him in any way.”
Along with Isaac’s mobility preferences, Aimee and Charles also learned more about what medical interventions Isaac would need after he joined their home. We were “aware that some kind of amputation and prosthetics would be in his future,” said Aimee, but the extent of his medical needs could not be determined via the reference to limb difference in his referral documents.
Isaac joined his family at the age of three and, at the age of four, underwent amputations at Shriners Hospital. Aimee was aware that Isaac had undergone several surgeries in Korea and that this experience may be triggering: “When we took Isaac for his surgery, I required that I be able to go back with him before he fell asleep, and that I was there before he woke up. I wanted him to know, we were going to be there for him all of the time.”
In all, Isaac has had two surgeries: one to allow him to use prosthetics, the other to correct a femur that was growing incorrectly years later. Since then, they visit the limb difference clinic regularly to meet with the head of orthopedic surgery, his prosthetists and his physical therapist.
“He needed prosthetics changes more frequently when he was smaller because he was growing so quickly. When he first got his prosthetics, we did a number of overnights because he needed to work with his physical therapist in order to learn how to use them. He didn’t have a tremendous amount of core strength; so he did physical therapy twice a week to build his core during that first year,” Aimee remembers.
Aimee also emphasized the need for parents to become their own advocates to access resources: “We had his physical therapy upped to three days a week through the school district committee for preschool special education. Most school districts have committees or programs through which children can receive physical or occupational therapy. I had to show that he needed to be able to access his education and petition to have this provided.”
But Aimee explains, “The therapy wasn’t a big deal, it was just part of preparing him for his new way to get around.”
Now, Isaac meets with his medical team once a year to discuss questions like: What kind of things is he involved in? And, are his prosthetics meeting his needs? During the visit, he will be cast for new prosthetics, and several more trips are required to finish and adjust the prosthetics, which usually last him about a year and a little longer as he grows.
Over the years, Aimee and Charles have discovered that their initial fears about a need they weren’t familiar with were unfounded. “We’ve found that Isaac is the easiest child we have. He has such a fantastic, smooth temperament. The limb difference is a small part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him in any way,” shared Aimee.
“The thing we’ve really learned from all of our kids—bio and adopted—is that they’re all just kids. They have similarities and differences. The thing about kids that are coming from hard places, is that they need a family. They need someone to support them, and it’s just a fantastic privilege to be able to provide that. To be able to be the people to be there when they wake up,” Aimee reflected.
Resources for Families/Children with Limb Differences
When they first considered adopting a child with a limb difference, and as they prepared to bring Isaac home, Aimee and Charles found great help in the International Child Amputee Network (I-CAN). This group helped them meet adult adoptees and parents who were willing to share advice and tell them what equipment and resources they may need.
Additionally, Aimee has shared this presentation she created as part of an application for a grant to purchase a specialized bike for Isaac when he was younger. The presentation includes photos from Isaac’s youth and recounts different steps along the way so that families may get a fuller idea of what Isaac and his family have done over the years.
Meet Children with Limb Differences Who Wait for Adoption
In June, we advocated for a number of children with limb differences who wait for adoptive families. We encourage you to get to know a few of them and to consider whether your family could be theirs.Read blogs about children who wait