Just weeks after graduating as the class valedictorian from Warner high school, Cassie Mitchell woke up one morning unable to move her lower body.
The accomplished athlete, who recently earned a collegiate track scholarship, found herself at the mercy of medical tests to determine whether or not she would ever be able to walk again.
“I pulled myself up from my nightstand and I immediately collapsed. I haven't stood since, I haven't walked since. I was 18-years-old,” Mitchell said.
Due to the development of neuromyeltis optica from the waist down, Mitchell could no longer run track and instead decided to attended Oklahoma State University to study engineering. During her first semester Mitchell found wheelchair basketball and fell in love.
Mitchell, who came off of the bench for the Warner Eagles, quickly became one of the best female wheelchair basketball players in the country. Earning a spot on the under 21 women's Paralympic basketball team, the star athlete hoped to one day represent team USA.
However, after her disease began to spread into her hands and upper body Mitchell could no longer play basketball effectively.
Determined to represent her country, Mitchell went back to track and field to continue chasing her dream. It wasn't long before she realized her dominance among other athletes. Between 2010 and 2012, Mitchell earned medals in 11 national and world athletic competitions and rose to be one of the premiere para-cyclists in the world.
Anticipating a roster position for team USA in the 2012 London Games, Mitchell continued training and preparing for an opportunity to earn a gold medal. However, even after breaking world records, Mitchell was left off of team USA and was not given the opportunity to compete in London.
“To this day I don't know why I didn't make the team. I don't think I'll ever know”, Mitchell said.
Driven more than ever, the Paralympic hopeful began setting her sights on Rio and continuing her dominance in multiple events. Set to compete for a position on team USA, Mitchell was delivered disastrous news.
“In April 2016 I was diagnosed with leukemia and 97 percent of my blood cells were cancerous. It was a devastating diagnosis and it became very difficult to train,” Mitchell said.
As doctors advised her to give up on Rio, Mitchell continued training. Recovery after workouts took more time and chemotherapy drained Mitchell of her energy. While facing obstacles Mitchell refused to give up.
“When I was in the hospital 10 days before the trails I think a few people maybe doubted, but I always knew that no matter what I was going to be at the trails,” Mitchell said.
After the conclusion of the paralympic trails, Mitchell earned a positions on both the USA track and field team and swimming team. Competing against the Worlds best paralympians, Mitchell returned to Warner, OK with both a bronze and silver medal.
In the Warner high school activities center, Mitchell spoke to students and teachers reminding them to battle through difficult times.
“No matter what happens in life, what obstacles you may face physical or otherwise to never, never, never give up,” Mitchell said.