‘Photolanthropy’ project supports Special Olympians around the globe
By Chelsea Edgar
As an elementary school student in Hong Kong, Quisha Lee ’24 took fencing lessons with Yu Chui Yee, a Paralympic gold medalist who had lost her left leg to bone cancer at the age of 11. Training with Yee left an indelible mark on Quisha.
“Despite her physical disabilities, she displayed such inspiring strength that pushed me to train harder every time I saw her,” Quisha told Millerton’s Main Street Magazine during an interview this spring. “It was in these moments, where I was in proximity with disabled athletes, that I realized disabilities should never be viewed as barriers or weaknesses, but rather as a means to practice tenacity and gratitude that we all should learn from.”
At Hotchkiss, Quisha channeled her love of photography and her commitment to ending the stigmatization of athletes with disabilities into Soaring Souls: Honor Our Heroes, an exhibition of photos documenting Special Olympians in Connecticut, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The show, which was displayed in the Main Building’s Upper Rotunda this spring and moved to the Peak Galleria mall in Hong Kong in July, highlights her gift for capturing the joyous, exuberant moments in the midst of competition—a swimmer preparing to leap off a diving board, stealing one last glance at the sidelines; or a bocce player with an eye patch, his face lit up in an enormous grin.
Quisha’s passion to support the Special Olympics began as a seventh-grader at Indian Mountain School when she participated in her first Hotchkiss Swimathon to help raise money for Special Olympics Connecticut. She is now a member of the Hotchkiss girls varsity swim team, and she has served since her prep year on the board of the Hotchkiss Special Olympics Club—organizer of Hotchkiss’s annual Swimathon. Quisha swam for her third consecutive year in the September 2022 event, which raised nearly $30,000 for Special Olympics Connecticut and Special Olympics Slovakia. The proceeds helped launch a daycare center in Slovakia that aids Ukrainian refugee families who have children born with intellectual disabilities.
Quisha credits her family with inspiring her philanthropy and photography, which she has dubbed “photolanthropy.” “My parents, especially, have had the greatest influence on my desire to create positive impacts on people around me. They have nurtured me with values of compassion and charity,” she said. Her grandmother encouraged her enthusiasm for taking pictures at a young age. At Hotchkiss, she has continued to hone her photography skills under Colleen MacMillan, instructor in photography, and Ann Villano P’17, instructor in film and George Norton and Jodie Stone teaching chair.
Soaring Souls took shape in the summer of 2022 while Lee was home in Hong Kong. That July, Quisha met 12-time Paralympic gold medalist So Wa Wai and his mother; from there, she met and photographed dozens of other athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities. Her work has been supported by Special Olympics Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee, and Special Olympics Connecticut.
“Quisha’s passion and commitment to enriching the lives of Special Olympics athletes through her talent is humbling,” Special Olympics President and CEO Michael Mason stated in the forward to a booklet accompanying Quisha’s exhibition. “Her photographs challenge others to look beyond differences and embrace the diversity of each individual’s gifts—and, in doing so, experience true kindness and the joy of belonging.”
For Quisha, the ultimate goal for her project “is to create a sustainable and positive impact for the athletes and the organization that have inspired me tremendously,” and she hopes “to address the inequalities between athletes with and without disabilities, specifically in terms of unequal pay, recognition, and community support.” To that end, she has already raised more than $56,000 to support Special Olympics Connecticut through her Soaring Souls exhibit.
Photographing athletes with disabilities has had a profound impact on Quisha. “The mere act of attending training for disabled athletes transformed my worldview; it made me rethink my definition of ‘normal,’” she said. “The Special Olympics and Paralympics athletes I met over the past year showed me the importance of self confidence, motivation, and love. While documenting these athletes of all ages, I truly felt that they were stronger and more inspiring than other athletes I’ve met. They did not view themselves as disabled or at a disadvantage and simply trained to the best of their abilities.”
Quisha believes that images have the power to transform how people see the world, and she hopes that viewers “learn or see something new” from her photography. “Please join me on my journey to spread understanding and awareness of intellectually and physically disabled athletes around the world,” she said. “Together, we can make a difference.”
View more photos by Quisha Lee ’24 at www.soaringsouls.net, where donations for Special Olympics Connecticut are also accepted.