CHICAGO — Noelle Malkamaki is her own worst critic. At the Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in May, she broke the F46 shot put world record but still left not completely satisfied.

“At that meet, I think I wanted a little better performance, I think a lot of people feel that way, all the time,” the DePaul senior athlete said. “It’s so interesting, I threw a pretty good mark that day, but my personal best is over a meter better than that, so I was hoping for a personal best. I’m always hoping for a personal best every time I throw, which is not always possible, but that’s the goal.”

The downstate Decatur native will have another chance to hit that mark when she represents Team USA in the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris starting July 8th, a dress rehearsal for the 2024 Olympics in the City of Light, where she’ll also sport the red, white, and blue.

“I have a countdown on my phone to how long the Paralympics are in Paris,” Malkamaki said. “I really look at this trip as a test run for it, to get used to international competition.”

Noelle has been training in track and field since 8th grade but is always against able-bodied competitors. She never considered competing in para-athletics until a coach asked her two years ago if she was interested.

“For a long time, I wasn’t sure I was disabled enough to do it,” the 22-year-old said. “There is so much the public doesn’t know about the Paralympics. There are so many different classifications, so when you are disabled, you are going to compete against so many people that look like you, so when I learned about all this I said, ‘Ok there is a classification I do fit into. I am a disabled athlete and haven’t identified with it for so long.’ It was totally different, a total mindset shift and now that I’ve been exploring that realm more over the last few years, I’ve gotten more comfortable with it and identifying more with the fact that I am an adaptive athlete.”

Noelle was born with amniotic band syndrome, causing her right hand to never fully develop. But from an early age, she learned to adapt.

“I went to Shriners [Hospital] when I was younger, and we got fitted for a prosthetic,” she said. “I don’t use it any more really because it’s easier for me to navigate life without one. But we got a prosthetic so I could learn to tie my shoes because I had to learn before Kindergarten, I think. I learned how to tie it there with the prosthetic on, and on the drive home from St. Louis I had the prosthetic off in the back of the car and I was tying my shoes without it. So it’s always come more naturally to me do with what I got.“

Embracing any perceived limitations has helped Noelle soar past them – in life and in the circle.

“Everyone on team says how inspiring it is to train with her,” said DePaul assistant throws coach Brandon Murer. “I don’t look at her as anything other than Noelle. She’s training at the highest level and that’s the person that’s inspiring everyone else.”

“I do things a little differently and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Malkamaki said. “It enables me to do them even better.”