Patty Cisneros Prevo’s New Book, ‘Tenacious,’ Brings New Light To Disability
by Ryan Wilson
Patty Cisneros Prevo wonders what it would have been like seeing someone who looked her in a book when she was 18 years old.
“What kind of impact could that have had on my life at that time?” Cisneros Prevo said.
At the time, she was a freshman in college and new to the disabled community, having been in a car crash that left her paralyzed. Cisneros Prevo did not see many people with disabilities in books. She noticed that continued to be the case when she was an elementary school teacher, and it remains largely true today.
So she set out to fill that void by publishing her first book, “Tenacious: Fifteen Adventures Alongside Disabled Athletes,” in June. “Tenacious” is an illustrated kids book that tells stories of individual athletes with disabilities.
The book includes personal stories of athletes such as John Register and Eli Wolff. Register won a silver medal in long jump at the Paralympic Games Sydney 2000. Wolf competed on the U.S. men’s cerebral palsy football team during the Paralympic Games Atlanta 1996 and Paralympic Games Athens 2004.
Cisneros Prevo, a three-time Paralympian herself in wheelchair basketball who helped Team USA win gold medals in 2004 and 2008, said she hopes her book will open kids with all abilities to experiences unlike their own.
“There isn’t a book like this that exists,” she said. “I knew that it was needed. It was needed for both the disabled community and the non-disabled community.”
Cisneros Prevo said the book took six and a half years to publish. The idea came to her after she was seeking out kids’ books and couldn’t find many on the topics of disability or the Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) community.
“There were hardly any stories with main characters who were disabled or nonfiction books about disability,” Cisneros Prevo said. “Very naively … I was like, ‘I’m going to write this book, and I’m going to get it published. I’m going to share it with the world.’ It finally came to fruition.”
She said she initially wanted to write a book that featured Paralympians who were moms, but she was convinced to expand her focus to reflect the different identities within the disabled community.
She also decided to change the headline from “Unstoppable” to “Tenacious” when she learned, toward the beginning of writing the book, what ableism is. Ableism is defined as discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.
“Over the edits, I was like, ‘Unstoppable can be such an ableist term for disabled people,’” Cisneros Prevo said. “Guess what, stairs definitely stop me. … I just found myself wanting to do right by the disabled community, because I had perpetuated so much ableist language and culture as an elite athlete that I’m quite frankly ashamed of and embarrassed of.”
She shared her perspective with her editor, and the two agreed a different title would be more appropriate.
“I had this conversation with my editor. I was like, ‘Listen, this is where I’m at in my journey. I’m trying to dismantle this internalized ableism,’” Cisneros Prevo said.
Cisneros Prevo now works in the diversity, equity and inclusion space, and she consults and speaks on such topics as ableism and disability justice. She reserved space at the end of “Tenacious” to address the history of the Paralympic Games, the different types of disabilities that exist today and preferred language around disability.
Cisneros Prevo has held book signings and talks in Colorado and at the Move United Nationals in Birmingham, Alabama; she has also traveled across her home state of Wisconsin with former teammates.
She said the reaction has been “overwhelmingly incredible.” The response has been unanimously positive online, too, with one Amazon book review saying:
“Tenacious is a book that informs, inspires and uplifts your spirit. I had no idea there were so many sports for the disabled to compete in. It makes you realize that you must search for what will give you joy in life. That each of us struggles sometimes with the same things.”
Cisneros Prevo said she has plans to write one or two additional books on disability. One will be a fiction book on the intersection of disability and ethnicity loosely based her own life. The other book, maybe a “Tenacious 2.0,” will be about artists with disabilities.
“People want to be valued, seen and celebrated, and books are just one avenue for that,” Cisneros Prevo said. “If you can see yourself in a book, it can really change things for you.”