U.S. Army veteran and Paralympian, Centra Mazyck, talks about facing discrimination, raising her son and not letting her injury slow her down
By Courtney Cooper
Photo Courtesy of Ce-Ce Mazyk
Throughout her life, U.S. Army veteran Centra “Ce-Ce” Mazyck has faced a great deal of hard times, but to this day she is a force to be reckoned with. One year after her son, Tristen, was born, Ce-Ce sustained a spinal-cord injury (SCI) when she jumped out of a C130 aircraft and her parachute opened too late. Both her L1 and L2 vertebrae were crushed with the landing and she was left paralyzed from the waist down, leaving her to be a single, disabled mother.
Joining the Army was an easy decision for Ce-Ce as she came from a strong military background. Her mother, both of her uncles and her brother all served or are currently serving. The South Carolina native had a dream of being a fashion merchandiser, and one year into her college career she decided to join the military. After basic training she attended Bauder Fashion College where she got her Associate of Arts degree and continued her education at the University of South Carolina where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts.
Although Ce-Ce was left paralyzed in November 2003, she knew she had to bounce back as quickly as possible to give Tristen the best life she could.
“The doctor’s released me from the hospital in March 2004 and told me to give it a year of living with my mother, trying to get back in to society,” Ce-Ce says. “By August of that same year, Tristen and I had our own place and I was taking him back and forth to daycare by myself because I was determined to do it.”
Determined and motivated by her son, Ce-Ce has turned her injury into something positive. The Army veteran turned Paralympian has worked hard to achieve all of her goals. Since her injury, she has obtained both her associate and bachelor’s degree, participated in many National Veterans Wheelchair Games, competed in the 2012 Paralympics in London, became a motivational speaker and has continued to put her whole heart into raising her 15-year-old son.
Photo Courtesy of Ce-Ce Mazyk
Ce-Ce has always been athletic. In high school, she participated in basketball, cheerleading and track. After her injury, she found adaptive sports and fell in love. She has since competed in basketball and track and field, specifically the javelin, which took her to the Paralympics. She is a natural competitor.
“I’m competitive at nature I just move around a little bit different and I’m just going to ride this new life that I have until the wheels fall off,” she says.
As February moves along and Black History Month is celebrated, Ce-Ce and her family are proud to learn about their ancestry and use what they are taught as a motivating tool to move forward in life. While many people dedicate one month to teaching and celebrating black history, she doesn’t look at it as Black History “Month.”
“It’s not only a month to me,” she says. “It’s every single day because I am African-American, and I am an American living in society this way every single day. It’s every day of learning where we come from. With everything that is going on in the world today, race plays a part, but it also doesn’t play a part because you don’t have to let it. You can teach your children that it doesn’t matter – black, white, Asian or whatever race it may be, we all come from somewhere. So, Black History Month isn’t just a month for me, it’s every single day.”
Ce-Ce has raised her son not to see race. She still recalls the first time Tristen realized his race and how she handled it.
“When [Tristen] was in elementary school, he didn’t even know the difference,” Ce-Ce says. “He came home one day and said ‘Mommy! I’m brown!’ and I said ‘Yes, you are brown.’ And he said ‘There’s black, there’s pink and peach, but I’m not black’ because he was trying to correlate it with the color and that’s when I had to explain to him the race and how it goes. That was the first time and that was the third grade, and my son had no recollection because I did not bring him up that way. We are all one.”
Ce-Ce has seen her share of discrimination, but there is one place she always felt welcomed and never experienced discrimination – the Army. She even recalls a situation where her command Sergeant Major had a confederate flag sticker on his truck and she told him she was uncomfortable driving around his truck with that sticker and out of respect for her he took it down.
“[I think there was no discrimination because of] the comradery, teamwork and the idea that we are all one team,” Ce-Ce says. “If it was going on, it was not towards me or I didn’t see it at all. I never experienced it, it’s the Army of one.”
Mazyk is always looking for ways to better herself as a mother and an individual, and that is one of the reasons she admires the late author and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou.
“I’m in love with Maya Angelou, the late and great,” she says. “She is everything, and with her poems they weren’t really discriminatory, they were talking about being yourself and bettering yourself and getting to know oneself. My favorite [poem] is of course Phenomenal Woman. I like her because she, to me, embodies one individual, no color.”
As Ce-Ce lives her life to the fullest, she encourages everyone to do the same.
“Doors open and doors close, that’s what they do,” Ce-Ce says. “But that does not mean you have to keep a door closed. You have to push through your adversities in your life and live outside of your comfort zone, and that’s when your life truly begins.”