Meijer State Games of Michigan Athlete of the Year shares the challenges of battling MS

Andrea “Speedie” Hampton has always been passionate about sports. She fences and plays wheelchair lacrosse, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair softball. Over the weekend, her team competed in the wheelchair basketball national tournament, winning three games, and losing two.

Her accomplishments include winning medals in fencing and softball. In October, she was one of four people named 2023 Meijer State Games of Michigan Athlete of the Year.

But Hampton, who competes from a wheelchair due to the effects of multiple sclerosis, remembers when the possibility of such achievements seemed remote. 

This month marks the 14th anniversary of her diagnosis at age 26 in 2011. She can still recall how she felt that day. She remembers screaming a lot in her car after she was given the news.

“I was nervous and scared. I was unsure of what having MS meant for me in the long run, and I have never heard about MS before,” says Hampton. “Things have changed for me MS-wise over the years, but I keep doing the best I can.”

Adapting and excelling

Remaining active in sports has helped her cope with the changes in her body as MS symptoms have progressed.

At the Meijer State Games, she has won gold medals twice in fencing in the adaptive foil division. In 2023, she also competed with able-bodied fencers and finished sixth in women’s foil and ninth in women’s epee. She also earned the sportsmanship award at the 2022 National Wheelchair Softball World Series in Chicago.

Andrea Hampton with her medal for being a 2023 Meijer State Games of Michigan Athlete of the Year.

In honoring her as adult female athlete of the year, the Meijer State Games noted that “her continued vivacity for life and love of sports have allowed Hampton to adapt and find new avenues, have fun and stay active. She is known for being fearless, friendly and fun, and never lets her physical limitations define her.”

Hampton was surprised by the award. “I thought it was an April Fools joke in October,” she says. “After I found out it was true, I felt honored and grateful for the recognition.”

Always an athlete

Sports have always been an important part of Hampton’s life. She played sports at Ottawa Hills High School and Ferris State University. 

“I have an older brother, and whatever he played, I wanted to play as well,” she says. “In high school, I played hockey and softball.”

Hockey is how she discovered Ferris State University.

“I actually went to hockey camp a few times in middle school at Ferris,” she says. “I knew I wanted to go to Ferris when I was able to go to college.”

When she finally arrived at the Big Rapids campus after graduating from Ottawa Hills, she studied recreation management and leisure services and played intramural sports.

It was in college that her first MS symptoms began to appear.

“I didn’t pay much attention to it at that time,” she says. “I remember one time I was going to the bank, and I noticed that my walking was becoming harder for me to do. Also, we played games in one of my classes, and I noticed my running wasn’t the same.”

‘Just try’

In May 2011, she received her diagnosis of relapsing-remitting and secondary progressive MS.
Relapsing-remitting is the most common disease course, with attacks followed by remission, according to the National MS Society. Secondary progressive MS follows the initial relapsing-remitting course, and disability accumulates over time.

At the Meijer State Games, Andrea Hampton has won gold medals twice in fencing in the adaptive foil division.

Hampton has had to adjust to living with a progressive disability. She has gone from walking to walking with a cane, and now to using a wheelchair a majority of the time. She also just switched to using hand controls for driving.

“What I want to say to anyone with a disability or not is just try, that's all you can do,” Hampton says. “Have fun and believe that you can. You don't have to do everything, but enjoy what you enjoy doing.”

She credits playing sports with helping her emotionally as her disease progresses, and she’s grateful to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for its role in her athletic journey.

“I've always been into sports since I was little,” says Hampton. “Sports has always been my outlet. Having Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, I was able to play sports and make great friendships.”

Sharing ‘no-quit attitude’

At Mary Free Bed, she’s active in fencing, wheelchair lacrosse, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair softball.

“They helped me regain my confidence by playing adaptive sports,” she says. “When I was first diagnosed with MS, one of the things that got me down was that I thought I was done playing sports.”

Hampton is more than just a participant at the Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports program, says Christy VanHaver, sports coordinator for Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports.

“Speedie is all in when it comes to sports and often goes above and beyond, being a guest speaker at adaptive sports classes and connecting with new athletes as they join our teams,” she says.
A chance encounter with the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation’s sled hockey program was the first spark that eventually fueled her full-scale entry into adaptive sports.

The Griffins were at Griff’s Icehouse at Belknap Park to play sled hockey with the Sled Wings, an adaptive hockey team, and, for a dollar, Hampton was able to try sled hockey.

“I had the biggest smile on my face being back on the ice and just coasting around,” she says. “One of the coaches noticed the smile and told me how I could participate in adaptive sports through Mary Free Bed Hospital, and I have been going strong with them in the sports world ever since.”

She works at Mary Free Bed YMCA as a sports coach, basketball referee and baseball umpire. 

“I hope I'm able to show the families I have a no-quit attitude,” Hampton says. “Yes, kids stare when they see me, but I just smile and wave. I do my best to push through and ask for help when needed.”

Photos courtesy of Andrea Hampton

This article is a part of the multi-year series Disability Inclusion, exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.

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