At the age of 14, she was in an
auto accident that left her with no
muscle function in her legs and
minimal use of her arms and hands.
She couldn’t move her fingers or
“I never thought about staying
in a nursing home,” Kolbe said.
“It was never an issue for me. I
always knew I was just going to get
stronger and get back to my life as
soon as possible. I’m a person who
thrives on action.”
Kolbe had grown up as the girl
next door, the youngest of three
children, in Tiffin, Ohio, a small
town near Toledo. Her father was
an elementary school teacher and
her mother provided care for those
with developmental disabilities.
“I have a very supportive family
and they were a huge part of my
recovery, my support, and my
strength,” she said, of her parents
and her older brother and sister.
Not only was her family there
for her, but her community.
“It felt like the entire town
rallied around us,” she said. “At
the Tiffin Center, where my mom
worked, people donated months of
their vacation time for her so she
could stay with me, and my Dad
had meals cooked for him while
we were at the hospital. We even
had people come over and build a
ramp at our house. Everyone kind
of just pitched in.”
Prior to her accident, Kolbe de-
scribed herself as a nerd who liked
to participate in sports and music.
She was a girl in motion both men-
tally and physically, participating in
softball, basketball, soccer, gym-
nastics, and her favorite, volleyball,
as well as being an A-student. A
crucial part of her recovery was
“I didn’t like swimming beforehand,” she said.
But being in the water after her
accident transformed her.
“I immediately loved the water,”
she said. “It was really freeing to
not need a device to move.”
She connected with the Toledo
wheelchair sports organization,
which encouraged her to partici-
pate in swimming events.
“At my first swim meet, I met
Cheryl Angelelli, a Paralympic
swimmer, and her husband Shawn
Kornoelje, a Paralympic coach,”
Kolbe said. “They encouraged me to
compete nationally. Once I realized
I was good in the water, I trained
really hard and put a lot of focus and
Her participation as a com-
petitive swimmer took her out of
her home town and widened her