Deep in the bowels of the Wig basement on Pomona College’s south campus, a sociable sponsor group has commandeered the narrow hallway, turning it into a de facto common room for homework and socializing.
One of the friendly, laughing first-years is Amy Watt PO '20, who has relied on the close-knit group to smooth her college transition, which has been a bit more complicated than most.
While other Pomona students were easing their way into school, Watt was packing her bags for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Watt, who was born without her left arm below the elbow, ran track at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif., and began competing in Paralympic meets in 2014.
Watt thinks those who become amputees due to injury later in life might struggle to adjust to the loss of part of a limb, but to her, it seems normal.
“I’m just so used to it,” she said. “It doesn’t really feel different or weird to me—I just feel like everything I do is natural.”
In 2015, Watt won the 400-meter dash and long jump at the Paralympic national championships, and took silver in the 100 and 200; she seemed destined for the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.
At the trials this year, Watt performed better than some of the 26 athletes who were selected to represent the U.S., but learned too late that she needed to be officially classified into a specific disability group to compete at the Paralympics.
Just in case, Watt flew to Berlin to complete the process—fittingly, her classification number was 47. She continued training as an alternate after arriving at Pomona while attending orientation and campus events.
“I think I was able to balance it pretty well, especially because I ran track all through high school, so I was used to always having school and track,” Watt said. “[But] being in that little transition in that first week or few days or so was just a little bit difficult and different.”
One day, the Team USA coach texted her to see if she was still training, and cryptically told her to “stay busy.”
A few days later, she found out another athlete was injured, and Watt would be her replacement in Rio.
“I was really, really happy, and super excited to be able to go,” she recalled.
While other students were attending their first week of classes, Watt was on a plane to Houston for team processing, and then it was off to Brazil.
Though she wasn’t pleased with her Paralympic performances—she didn’t qualify for the final in the 100 or 400, and finished sixth in the long jump—Watt still enjoyed the experience.
“When I first went to [long jump], the first thing I noticed was definitely the amount of people there,” she said. “And people are cheering and excited to be there. Even if they’re cheering for the Brazilian athletes, it’s still really cool to hear all that noise in the stadium.”
After about two weeks in Rio, Watt returned to Pomona in mid-September.
“It feels weird, because I got here, got settled in, and then had to pack everything up, go to Rio, get settled in there,” she said. “Then I had to do the same thing and come back.”
Watt said her professors have been very understanding of her absence, and her welcoming sponsor group, which eats meals together, has been a comforting safety net.
“When I got back, it was really nice to see everyone again,” she said. “Even though I’ve only known them for like two weeks, I feel like I’ve known them for so much longer.”