Linda Mastandrea, Class of 1994
Gold medal-winning paralympian, author and civil rights attorney
Born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, Linda Mastandrea represented the United States at two Paralympic Games, three World Championships, the Pan American Games and the Stoke-Mandeville Wheelchair Games, wining 15 gold and 5 silver medals in wheelchair track and setting national, world and Paralympic records several times. After graduating from Chicago-Kent, she built a practice in disability law and civil rights law, representing clients with disabilities who have experienced discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and access to government services and benefits. She has taught Disability Law and lectures on the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability laws nationwide. In 2006, she published her first book, Sports and the Physically Challenged: An Encyclopedia of People, Events and Organizations.
Mastandrea is a member of AT&T’s Advisory Panel on Access and Aging and sits on the City of Chicago’s Building Board of Appeals. She serves as Secretary of the Midwest Olympians and Paralympians and is the 2nd Vice President of Variety International Paralympic Committee Legal and Ethics Committee. She was also part of the Chicago 2016 organization and presentation team that pursued the Olympic and Paralympic Games for the City of Chicago. Mastandrea was the first female Paralympian inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and received the International Olympic Committee President’s Disabled Athlete Award and the David Award from the Italo-American National Union.
What were you like as a law student?
Busy! I came to law school after working for 5 years, so my beginning of law school was learning how to study again, actually. I had trouble staying awake studying at night, trying to read and make sense of stuff. But I was also very active competing in wheelchair sports, so it was a super busy time, in addition to the newness of law school since I was training and traveling.
What has been your greatest challenge?
One of the challenges initially was not fully understanding what it took to be a lawyer. To me, at the time, you learned how to think and study like a lawyer, but I didn’t know the day to day. I didn’t intern while I was in school because I was busy competing, so I kind of missed out on that. I threw myself in and found people I could talk to, so it all worked out.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
The thing that I’m most proud of was when I was selected to be a part of Chicago’s 2016 bid, I was selected to be a part of the final presentation team who presented to the International Olympic Committee to make Chicago’s case and got to be on stage with President and Mrs. Obama. That was amazing, something I never would have imagined.
What does your future hold?
Interesting you should ask, because as of today I have thrown my hat in the ring to run for a county-wide seat as a circuit court judge!
What advice would you give to young attorneys just starting out today?
Don’t be afraid. You can’t know everything starting out and there’s certainly a learning curve. I’ve found that people in the legal profession are friendly, tremendously helpful and willing to share their expertise. That’s how I learned, because I wasn’t afraid to pick up the phone and call someone who was practicing the area I wanted to learn about. I never had anybody say no. Throw yourself into it with passion and you’ll do fine.