From World-Class Swimmer to Full-Time Scholar

When world-class swimmer Kristin Duquette ’13 lost a bid for the 2012 Paralympics in London, she thought her world had ended. “I can’t fully express what it is like to have a shot at a childhood dream and not make it,” she says.

But the experience opened some unexpected doors.

Duquette has wanted to be an Olympic swimmer since she was six-years-old. Though a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy when she was nine temporarily sidelined her dream, she took to the water again in high school—with the goal of making it to the 2012 Paralympics in London.

“I ate, slept and dreamed swimming,” says Duquette. The loss at the Paralympic Trials last June was devastating. But life went on, and the Trinity human rights major found herself feeling strangely liberated.

“I had this huge fear of failing, and it was holding me back,” she says. “I had to go through [losing] to get over my fear.”

Ready to take more risks, and without her intense training regime (she was in the pool up to 90-minutes a day), Duquette fully embraced the life of a scholar. “I didn’t know what it was like to just go to college,” she says. She took even more challenging courses, like international human rights law (POLS 369), where she learned about the United Nation’s humanitarian interventions and debated the ethicality of drone attacks.

“It was one of the hardest classes I’ve taken at Trinity, but I walked out with so much knowledge,” she says.

Duquette also pursued an independent study on the connection between Buddhism and human rights. “Both stress compassion and the interdependency of all people.” And she threw herself into her senior honor’s thesis, examining whether or not disability rights are viewed as human rights. “They are not,” she concludes.

“I don’t want just to learn about injustices. I want to do something about them,” she says. Last fall, she coordinated A Day in a Wheelchair (ADW) on campus with Charley Wedeen ’13 and Sean Snyder ’13. Thirty students and faculty spent the day in a wheelchair, getting first-hand experience of the challenges many disabled people experience.

Omari Roberts ’15 said that before the project, he felt sorry for people in wheelchairs, but now he has a new perspective. “They’re champions; it’s admirable.”

This spring, ADW was accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University 2013. In April, Duquette, Wedeen and Snyder attended the three-day conference in St. Louis, Missouri. They  met with world leaders and other student innovators and received input on how to grow their project and make it sustainable.

Duquette is passionate about Trinity and the opportunities the College has provided—like interning for Martin Looney, senate majority leader at the Connecticut State Capitol, in the spring of her junior year throught Trinity's Legislative Internship Program. The experience led her to consider a career in government, as either a policy maker or a human rights lawyer. "I gained entirely new experiences and knowledge," says Duquette.

“Coming to Trinity is the best decision I’ve made,” she says. “The faculty and staff see me for who I am, not just as a person in a wheelchair.”

After graduation, Duquette will head to Capitol Hill to intern for a member of Congress through the American Association of People with Disabilities Summer Internship Program. "My state legislative internshp certainly prepared me for what's to come this summer, and I'm excited to learn about creating sustainable change on the national level. "

Though her accomplishments are impressive, it is Duquette’s “can-do” attitude that most inspires her professors and peers. “She integrates this attitude into everything she does,” says friend and ADW participant Peter Burrows ’14.

“Kristin is always imagining new possibilities, then finding ways to make them happen,” says her adviser Sonia Cardenas, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Human Rights Program.

“My disability does not hold me back … at all,” says Duquette.