Former cheerleader Lacey Henderson launches podcast to help normalize disability

Finally, Lacey Henderson gets to ask the questions. Lord knows she’s used to answering them.

“What happened to you?”

“How did you lose your leg?”

“Isn’t it amazing how far technology has come? It’s like you’re not even disabled!”

As an amputee, a Paralympian and an advocate for people with disabilities, Henderson (BA ’11) has done her share of the talking. The DU alumna has delivered TED Talks, made public appearances and answered the questions of countless gawkers.

But now, as host of “Picked Last in Gym Class,” a new podcast focused on humanity and humor, Henderson is ready to start listening.

“It’s very refreshing [to be on the other end],” she says. “I don’t mind speaking and telling my story, but I know how it ends.”

For those who haven’t heard, here’s a quick refresher: In 1999, doctors found a light bulb-sized tumor behind her right kneecap, the product of a rare, deadly soft-tissue cancer called synovial sarcoma. When she was just 9 years old, surgeons amputated her leg 6 inches above the knee.

As a motivated child in a family that refused to see her as a victim, and as the daughter of a master’s national champion decathlete, Henderson rose to the occasion. She earned a cheerleading scholarship at DU, then set world records in the pole vault and American records in the long jump on the way to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. 

Along the way to prominence, Henderson appeared in commercials and worked as a motivational speaker and model. With another Paralympics on the horizon, she’s still training hard athletically. But she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to exercise a different skill set as podcast host.

“I was excited for a change of pace,” she says. “A lot of the things I bring up in my speeches open up interesting conversations. And I wanted to be able to use my story and my experiences to weave parallels with other people’s lives.”

Some of the comedians, athletes and entrepreneurs who appear on “Picked Last in Gym Class” have battled disease or disability, but Henderson was adamant from the start: This would not be a disability podcast.

People with disabilities, she likes to say, are simply people, representing the “world’s largest minority” at 10% of the population. Her amputation is a major part of her identity, but it’s far from the only part. The trauma and emotional burden feel much more distant. 

“To promote any type of change, you need people from outside communities to listen and understand,” she says. “Even members of my family still say, ‘You don’t seem disabled; you seem normal.’ And that’s the point.

“So often people with disabilities are painted as inspiring stories,” she continues. “That’s all great, and they can be an inspiration to someone. But they’re also people who live their everyday lives. We all have these human experiences. I think finding that is what’s important: for people to be able to see themselves in somebody whose life experiences are different and realize that we still experience most of the same things.”

Check out the podcast at dcpofficial.com/picked-last-in-gym-class

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