Classroom Champions: Young Tapestry students meet their Paralympian mentor

Jan 24, 2018

First and second graders at Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo had a chance to meet their athletic mentor up close.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Paralympian  Silver Medalist Sophia Herzog visited the students as part of the Classroom Champions program.

“Perseverance, what’s the other one?” asked a Tapestry teacher. “Integrity,” replied the students.  

Paralympian Silver Medalist Sophia Herzog visited Tapestry students in Buffalo as part of the Classroom Champions program.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Tapestry students have been working on special projects as part of their Classroom Champions program. 20-year-old Herzog is from Colorado and traveled here to Buffalo to finally meet the students in person that she’s been mentoring. They talked about the importance of perseverance and lessons she has learned through sports.

“I get to send them monthly videos. I’ve sent them a diversity, perseverance, community-goal setting and then I’m super lucky that I got a grant to be able to travel and meet all these kids, so I’m just helping and they’re helping me see our success throughout the year,” Herzog explained.  

Herzog is mentoring a total of five classrooms, two at Tapestry. Herzog started swimming at a young age and was first taught by her mother with the Dwarf Athletic Association of America.

“What encouraged you to become a swimmer?” Buckley asked.      

“To be a swimmer – I actually wanted to go for skiing, but I was going to need double knee replacements and they don’t have skiing available for a classification for Paralympics quite yet, so I switched to a very therapeutic sport – swimming. I learned how to swim at age three and I joined my first club team at age 12 and I became a national team member at the age of 17,” Herzog replied.    

Paralympian Silver Medalist Sophia Herzog visited Tapestry students in Buffalo as part of the Classroom Champions program.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Herzog stands just four feet tall and talked about how she was bullied in school. She now works to encourage students to look beyond any bullying.

“School can definitely be a difficult time because I was bullied pretty badly through high school, but you’ve just got to persevere and always see the light at the end of the tunnel and it can always get better,” Herzog explained. “I graduate high school early just due to the bullying and being able to move to an Olympic training center to train full-time and I just had to be in a different mindset of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel essentially, moving past the bullies and seeing what life is going to hold, because high school is only four years out of 100-years.”

Herzog’s Tapestry students conducted a community project, collecting mitten and hats for refugees around the Buffalo region. “Students collected about 175,” said Caitlin Coleman, 2nd Grade teacher. “Do something for our community, think about our community and where you live in order to meet that challenge that you gave.”

2nd Grade Tapestry teacher Caitlin Coleman explains who students collected hats & mittens for refugees.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Coleman explained to Herzog how students discussed learning about different people that came to Buffalo.  The children said it was about helping their local community.   

“What did you do there,” asked a Tapestry student regarding her December, 2017 trip to Mexico City. “We had our World Championship,” answered Herzog.

Tapestry students were amazed to learn Herzog recently participated in the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City with Team USA. She told the students how they won five medals including two golds.

But Herzog truly enjoys her roll out of the pool, mentoring and interacting with the students.

Tapestry students where themed Classroom Champions tee-shirts for the mentor visit, #Better Gets Better.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Swimming, let alone competing at this level can actually be surprisingly pretty lonely because a lot of people don’t understand what we do and what we sacrifice every day and so when I get out of practice and I get the notifications that they see my videos and do their community projects and just seeing their success can definitely make me happy after practice and feel that they are on my journey as well with me as I’m on their journey with them,” Herzog explained.