Alumni Spotlight: Travis Mohr, Civil Engineering 2004
December 24, 2011
If you want proof of the power of positive thinking and goal setting – look no further than the story of Drexel graduate and Paralympic gold medalist, Travis Mohr.
Travis was born with an extremely rare condition. He has no femur bones in his legs and, at 30 years old, stands at 4 feet 3 inches tall. The femur, or thigh bone, is the largest bone in the human body and without it, common activities such as running, kicking or jumping are impossible.
"When I was growing up no one really knew what I'd be able to handle because my condition was so rare," Travis said. "Doctors were worried that I would end up in a wheelchair because my legs wouldn't be strong enough to support my upper body as I grew."
Travis has never met anyone with the same disability, but that could soon change as he was recently contacted by the mother of a young boy who was also born without either of his femur bones. Travis hopes to set up a meeting with his little boy sometime soon.
Travis says that he first remembers feeling different when he started going to school and was around lots of other kids.
"I got teased a lot but I was always very outgoing," Travis remembers. "In public people don't understand so they still stare and tease. But I'd much rather someone come talk to me and ask me questions so that I can teach them about my disability."
Over the years, Travis has not only survived, he has thrived. He found ways to overcome everyday obstacles – driving his car with hand controls, for example – and he graduated from Drexel with a degree in civil engineering in 2004.
Add to that three trips to the Paralympics between 1996 and 2004, gold, silver and bronze medals, and several world records in swimming, and then you really see what an outstanding individual Travis Mohr is.
When asked how he managed it all – going to Drexel full-time, training about 6 hours a day for the Paralympics, and even working part-time at Home Depot – Travis laughed that he functions on about 4 hours of sleep.
Joking aside, Travis attributes his success to goal-setting. "I've always been into setting goals and trying to overcome things," he said. "When people think I can't do something I want to prove them wrong. That's what I've always loved about swimming. You are part of a team, but there is also an opportunity to set goals to reach your personal best."
When he was told at a young age that his disability might put him in a wheelchair, Travis trained to strengthen his legs so they would be able to support the rest of his body. He discovered swimming at 5 years old and even though he hated it at first, he soon grew to love the sport.
By the time Travis was in high school he was keeping up with and beating the able bodied swimmers in the pool.
At 15 Travis participated in his first Paralympics in 1996. He was the youngest member of the U.S. swim team. He returned to the Paralympics in 2000, and won his first gold medal at the Sydney games. He went on to win a handful of additional medals and set several world records throughout his swimming career.
"Winning the gold in Sydney was the best experience ever," he said. "Standing on the podium and seeing my country's flag being raised was amazing."
With all of those accomplishments under his belt, including the prestigious President's Medal from Drexel, as well as a nomination for a 2004 ESPY award, Travis says that his greatest triumph is overcoming his disability.
"I've found a way to do everything I need to do," he said. "I don't think of myself as being disabled anymore."
Travis took his positive outlook on the road and spent some time doing motivational speaking between 2004 and 2006. "I liked to tell my story and talk about the importance of setting goals and being positive," he said.
While he's currently married and busy working as an engineer with Kiewit Construction, one of the largest construction companies in the United States, Travis says that one day he would love to have more time for swimming and to someday coach.
Travis looks back fondly on his time spent with childhood swimming coach, Dick Schulberg of Germantown Academy. "He never treated me like I had disability," he said. "To him, I was just like everyone else."
Growing up with such a rare condition, Travis spent much of his early years wondering what his body would allow him to do. But when he challenged himself with personal goals, fueled by positive energy and dedication, Travis realized that his ability to achieve was defined by him – not his disability.
Written by: Lara Geragi, Office of Alumni Relations