Cynthia Frisina often thinks back to what experts told her when her second daughter, Cathryn, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy just before her first birthday in 2002. She wouldn’t walk, they said, and she would have difficulty with cognitive function. The news was devastating, and Frisina’s efforts to gather reliable information about cerebral palsy provided no solace. “I assumed that, like most other disorders, there must be a national parent organization that would provide information,” fifty-three-year-old Frisina says. “But there wasn’t one. It amazed me.”
In 2005, Frisina and Anna Marie Champion, who also has a child with cerebral palsy, launched Reaching for the Stars: A Foundation of Hope for Children with Cerebral Palsy. Today, the organization is the largest parent-led pediatric cerebral palsy nonprofit in the world.
As the foundation grew, so did Cathryn, who eventually wanted to participate in sports like her older sister. “There wasn’t a pathway for her,” Frisina says. “She was often left out of PE, and there were no school teams for her. It was not an inclusive environment.”
Frisina soon discovered BlazeSports America, the legacy organization of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games that gives children and adults with physical disabilities the chance to play adaptive and recreational sports. Frisina signed Cathryn up, and in 2015, she found a new professional calling as executive director of the Norcross-based organization. Under her leadership, BlazeSports offers more than forty opportunities for Georgians who are disabled to join sports teams or enjoy recreational activities. The organization has also brought humanitarian sports programs to eleven countries.
A year later, the White House named Frisina one of ten “Champions for Change” for her work. Moving forward, she hopes to encourage other parents. “When you’re faced with incredible adversity, it can change your life,” she says. “Sometimes we don’t find our story. Sometimes the story finds us.”