At an age where most babies take their first steps and learn to walk, Brianna Salinaro was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. At the tender age of 1, the Massapequa resident and her family received the news that their daughter’s life would be met with a slew of physical and sometimes mental and emotional challenges. As she grew up, her childhood was amassed with physical encounters, therapy and bullying by classmates. Refusing to succumb to her many tribulations, Salinaro, a current freshman at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, is preparing to become the first female ever to compete in the Taekwondo Paralympics.
“Growing up with Cerebral Palsy was and continues to be extremely difficult,” said Salinaro, who as a child, always knew that she was different but never understood why. “From the time I gained the ability to walk until today, my body has been covered in cuts, bruises and scars due to a lack of coordination and balance. But despite my insecurities I still participated in sports, gym class and recess.”
Salinaro became interested in martial arts when she was 5, after attending a friend’s Taekwondo themed birthday party. Although she didn’t commit to the sport until she was 9 by joining Ultimate Champions Taekwondo, Salinaro proved that she was a fighter since day one. At 14, she discovered the more competitive side of the sport, as well as gaining a group of people that recognized her talent and would help push her further.
“My family and friends has been very supportive throughout my journey…they are always encouraging me to continue chasing my dreams,” said Salinaro of her support system, which includes her Taekwondo teams in New York and Connecticut. “My coaches are always putting their best foot forward to ensure my success in tournaments.”
Para Taekwondo will make its Paralympic debut in the 2020 Paralympics, which means it is a relatively new sport, especially for the United States. The national team consisted of only men until February 2016, when Salinaro became the first female para Taekwondo athlete to represent the country at an international tournament.
Before a match, Salinaro’s exercise routine consists of stamina training and stretching. As for her nutritional routine, the young champion was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, preventing her from filling up on carbohydrates and hydrating with Gatorade like other athletes do.
“Along with a strict exercise routine, I follow a strict diet that includes a lot of vitamin and protein enriched foods along with constantly staying hydrated,” she said. “Taekwondo is not just a sport; it’s a way of life. Even before the Paralympics were even a thought I trained six days a week, but now, I have a goal that I need to reach and need to do everything in my power to try and achieve it.”
Before the age of 1 8, Salinaro earned her blackbelt and has also attained a second degree black belt, as well as becoming a 2017 para national team member (the first female para athlete to represent the United States) and a world champion. With a laundry list of titles and accomplishments, Salinaro’s life has changed tremendously over the years.
“I’m essentially a pioneer in the sport of Para Taekwondo, so along with that title comes great responsibility. I have become more serious about my training and I’ve become both physically and mentally stronger,” she said, adding that she follows a strict schedule of studying, training and going to the gym. “To be considered a role model at my age is definitely very humbling. To be able to set the stage, so to speak, for the next generation of Para Taekwondo athletes makes me feel proud.”
As for her goals for 2017, Salinaro hopes to earn her third degree black belt, become the 2017 para national champion, para Pan American Champion and para world champion in both the k42 and k44 sparring divisions. From 2018-20, she hopes to be successful in whatever tournaments qualify her for the 2020 Paralympics.
Salinaro tries to live each day by doing her best to accept her rough days and know that they are a big part of the journey. To other people who share her ambitious traits despite a physical disability, she says to keep pushing and don’t let physical limitation limit your mentality.
“Keep in mind that something you may not be able to do today could become very easy to do in time with hard work and dedication,” she said. “Don’t dwell on people’s hurtful words or opinions and remember that your goals are for you and no one else.”
The Massapequa High School alum is studying health science at Sacred Heart, with plans of graduating and opening her own physical therapy practice. But before that, Salinaro is truly grateful to represent with honor not only her country but the community of Massapequa.
“Having the privilege of being the first female para Taekwondo athlete for the United States as well as the first fighter in the world with Cerebral Palsy would be a dream come true and a true blessing,” she said.
In order to make history by competing in the 2020 Paralympics, Salinaro needs to raise money in order to cover travel expenses, training and coaching fees and room and board.
To donate to her GoFundMe page, visit www.gofundme.com/2dj9nk3g.