written by KATHLEEN STEVENS WHALEY | photo by KELLE MAC PHOTOGRAPHY
As a 12-year-old, Cynthia Frisina watched her athletic, robust father contract a disease that paralyzed him from the neck down. Just like that, her childhood and family were blindsided by a problem not part of the playbook.
“When faced with adversity, I learned you have to make a choice,” Frisina said. “Either succumb or learn from it and overcome.”
Her choice led to worldwide recognition as an expert on disability advocacy, education, strategic outreach and fund development. She steers the reins of BlazeSports America, based in Norcross. The organization is an impressive multi-sport compilation, dedicated to providing children and adults with physical disabilities the chance to live active lives, complete with an occasional sore muscle just like the rest of us. Their programming — the legacy of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games — is varied and mighty: from swimming to track and field, wheelchair basketball to rock climbing.
When asked if marrying physically challenged individuals with sports empowerment was an initial life goal, Frisina chuckled.
“Not at all. I thought I’d be an entertainment attorney.”
What changed? In 2001, Frisina learned her beautiful 10-month-old daughter Cathryn was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She had expected minor complications due to premature birth, but not the gut-punch of a serious neurological disorder. Frustration grew watching Cathryn trying to keep up with her older sister Alexandra. The gap between local need versus opportunity for the disabled was obvious.
In 2005, Frisina and another Atlanta mother, Anna Marie Champion, launched “Reaching for the Stars. A Foundation of Hope for Children with Cerebral Palsy.” The grassroots effort has grown into the largest pediatric cerebral palsy nonprofit foundation led by parents in the world.
While her heart may bubble over with empathetic warmth, Frisina’s business savvy and strategic skills are laser focused. For more than 25 years, she worked at Fortune 500 companies doing award-winning lay-ups in the field of marketing. One platform led to another and the Midwestern transplant saw her passions align as BlazeSports’ executive director in February.
An accomplished athlete, she knows that pushing the body forward and achieving goals are victories for any of us, but emphasized how rewarding it is to witness such advancements in those who struggle with physical hurdles. Frisina cites her daughters as inspiration, as well as the folks who collaborate with her.
“Every day I’m working with heroes,” she reflected.
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