Journalist Keishla Rolón was worried that navigating the FBI’s Citizens’ Academy in a wheelchair might slow her down. But thanks to support from FBI staff, she kept pace with her classmates and exceeded her own expectations.
In San Juan, journalist Keishla Rolón was worried that navigating the FBI’s Citizens’ Academy in a wheelchair might slow her down. But thanks to support from FBI staff, she kept pace with her classmates, and exceeded her own expectations. Read more as she shares her story in her own words:
As a Muscular Dystrophy patient, I badly need my hands to “walk” with my wheelchair. So, when I was asked to join San Juan’s FBI Citizens’ Academy 2010-01, I said to myself “Okay, I can do that too”.
Every Thursday, and for eight weeks, we met. 14 lucky citizens were able to listen to the top officials of the FBI, ask them questions, and best of all, give our point of view—very unusual points of view may I add—of the topics they presented. I was having a blast.
Then, on our sixth class, from the back of the room enters this huge guy, carrying all the SWAT gear, rifles and all, talking about their job as Special Weapons and Tactics. He had no idea, but one of the first things he said was: “I will pass around some of my equipment so you can hold them and see how heavy they are….” For a few seconds that was all I pondered in my head. I wanted to hold the helmet, the bulletproof vest; I wanted to have the experience of holding a 9 mm and the rifle. I didn’t want to be deprived from those experiences; but then again, my condition affects my muscle strength so, I knew for sure that I was not going to be able to hold those things on my own! I was nervous.
Sitting first in line, he walks towards me, and my eyes almost popped out of my face. The mere thought of letting the helmet fall on the floor because it was too heavy for me, really scared me. He then kneeled and whispered in my ear: “Can you hold it?” “Let me try”, I answered. And slowly, the supervisor of the FBI’s SWAT Team let go… so I held it. Phew! Same thing with the vest… then the gun… and the rifle—which he had to hold and turn around, and up, left, right so I could see all the parts because it was way too heavy for me to hold. I was challenged with the experience and refused to miss out on anything that night.
Then seventh week came, along with the “situation room,” also known as Firearms Arms Training System ( FATS), which is a state of the art mega “play station” of some sort. Yep, you guessed it... I wanted to shoot! I had no idea how I could do it. But I was determined to. The firearms instructor came in and gave us all the instructions and, one by one, we were going to be challenged with a situation for us to react and then discuss.
I volunteered to be the first one. I held the “gun” and it was not too heavy… Then I tried the trigger. “Sorry girl” my finger said… “This is how far you will go.” But let me tell you something, my body and my mind are not always in agreement. So then again, I said to the instructor, “Can you push the trigger for me?” He looked at me… then looked at the plastic gun, then again looked at me. I knew he was trying to figure out how to do it (because he knew I wanted to hold the gun and be the one who decided whether to shoot or not). So he kneeled, put his finger under mine, and when I pushed the trigger, he also did. So I shot the bad guy and passed the test!
Graduation day came. And there they were; real weapons to be shot by us. That’s right, I wanted to shoot. Although all the agents were looking forward to seeing the “girl on the wheelchair” shoot a 9mm at the range, they were very supportive in helping me accomplish one of my “to do” things from my bucket list. They held the gun with me and helped me with the trigger. I shot…. I was able to shoot! I passed the FBI Citizens’ Academy, just like all my classmates. Same challenges, same experiences. I was happy to become the first handicapped person to graduate from San Juan FBI Citizens’ Academy ever… and I cannot tell you how proud I was to pass all the challenges that this Citizens’ Academy entailed.
Then it hit me.
I was not the one who was challenged. It was the FBI.
All agents, support personnel and the Special Agent In Charge, who by the way was very thoughtful of me having the best experience of the academy, were the people who were challenged by me and my spirit of overcoming obstacles. They were the ones who graduated from “My Academy”… They were the ones who created a perfect environment for me to be able to do all the things my fellow classmates did. So, guys, thank you. And as I often tell myself: you overcame the barriers… you were the ones who passed the test!
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