Hanscom Middle Schooler competes at U.S. Paralympics

  • Published
  • By Lauren Russell
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Kenley Teller, a student at Hanscom Middle School, is making waves as a competitive swimmer on junior club teams and the U.S. Paralympic events.

Kenley, who is 12, was born with a rare genetic condition called popliteal pterygium syndrome that resulted in webbed legs, fingers, toes, and eyelids, as well as a cleft lip and pallet, and required multiple surgeries, including double leg amputation mid-knee when she was 3 years old.

“She has always been active and loved the water, but she was so limited with her leg mobility,” said Mary Teller, Kenley’s mother. “It wasn’t until after the amputation surgery that she could really enjoy it.”

During a family ski trip in 2016, Kenley’s father, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Aaron Teller, saw a flyer for an adaptive sports program outside their duty station near Seattle, Washington.

“The program sounded great; she always loved being in the pool, and she could get swim lessons coached by a former Paralympian,” said Lt. Col. Teller, who is currently a national security fellow at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. “From there, she just took off.”

Kenley joined her first swim team when she was 6 years old and set her first two Junior Nationals records at age seven, followed by six more records by age eight.

In 2019, she qualified and competed in the U.S. Para Swimming National Championship in Lewisville, Texas. At 9, she was the youngest participant at the meet, where she medaled in the S8 50-meter backstroke.

She most recently competed in the 2022 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Nationals held in Charlotte, North Carolina, last month, where she set personal records in six out of her seven events.

“You don’t have to be able to jump or run to swim - it’s for everybody,” said Kenley.

Throughout her competitive career, she has been on several swim teams where she has been the only adaptive swimmer. Instead of letting that hold her back, Kenley said the added challenge makes her a better competitor.

She explained that once she turns 13 this summer, she’ll begin competing against a much more diverse group of swimmers in both age and skill. To prepare, she’s doing all she can to build her strength and endurance, and training to be the greatest she can be.

“I think I’m going to stick with this sport for a long time, and see how far I can push myself,” Kenley said.

In addition to swimming, she enjoys reading, writing, art, and playing the piano.

In 2019, the U.S. Paralympic Swimming organization awarded Kenley the Amazing Grace Award, which is presented to a developing athlete who demonstrates courage, friendliness, determination, and cheer.

“This is her journey and her path,” said Mary. “We’re going to keep supporting her so she can continue to flourish at what makes her happy.”