Maria Zanandrea of the Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) program says she believes she was born to move: "As a little girl, I would sit down with my cousins at their tea parties, but I could see the boys playing soccer outside, and I would think, Why are we pretending to drink tea and pretending to feed dolls? I want to be out there. I need to be out there."
Zanandrea, a successful Olympic athlete, credits much of her active lifestyle to growing up on a cattle and grain farm in Sao Paulo, Brazil. On the farm she learned to drive tractors, handle other farming equipment, and play sports with her cousins and siblings. She enjoyed playing all sports, but focused on volleyball and track and field, specifically high jump. She competed in volleyball and track teams at the city, state, and international levels, eventually competing in the 1972 Olympics in volleyball and the 1976 Olympics in high jump. "I always wanted to be on the top," Zanandrea said. "I don't like to settle for the middle. I work very hard to see what it feels like to be there."
Zanandrea's drive to do her best in athletics has carried over to her academic and professional pursuits. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees in recreation management and her doctoral degree in physical education from BYU. She now focuses on training physical education teachers to bridge the gap between regular physical education classes and classes with students who have disabilities. She chose this focus because she noticed while growing up the types of discrimination suffered by students with disabilities. "I don't like the idea of people sitting on the sidelines. Students with disabilities are sometimes viewed as liabilities, but I know that they are assets. That is why I focus on inclusive teaching methods which focus on and integrate all students' assets instead of their potential shortcomings," she said.
Currently Zanandrea is working on developing examples, which she calls "episodes," of teachers working with students with disabilities to illustrate each concept taught in required courses in physical education certification programs nationwide. Professors can infuse Zanandrea's disability episodes into theory classes to help teach adaptation methods to prospective physical education teachers. The project has received international recognition, with five countries already interested in applying it: Brazil, Canada, Sweden, Italy, and Portugal. Zanandrea has presented at two major international conferences with over 100 countries present and has accepted an invitation to present at an upcoming European conference. She hopes her work will change physical education programs worldwide.
Zanandrea enjoys participating in athletics herself, as well as coaching others. She recently published a book titled The Word Search Book for Team Sports Skills: Innovations in the Gym, which is a series of word search activities created to instruct students on sports terms and definitions in fun, creative ways. Above all, she enjoys being a wife and mother. "Sports, really, is not who I am. It's what I do," Zanandrea said. "My husband and children and friends are so important to me. At the end of each day, I am as good as the difference I have made in their lives."
5 March 2010