If you believe in equality and love incredible sporting action, get in front of your TV and watch the Paralympics in Rio. Come and support some real heroes who’ve risen out of the ashes of adversity to become elite athletes. This competition is seriously intense and you’ll soon find yourself getting right into it… all from the couch!
Although I don’t watch sport, I decided to give equal attention to the Paralympics in Rio to the able-bodied games. While this started out as a ethical standpoint, it grew into a form of kinship. After all, I live with disability and chronic health issues and these are my heroes. The people who were dealt cards similar to my own, and instead of giving up on sport, persevered. They loved it. Sport moved them in ways which defied their physical being, and the Paralympics provided them with a dream. More than that, it was somewhere to hang their dreams and turn them into goals. In this new environment, they were no longer the slowest, the last to be chosen for the team but through their hard work, dedication and sheer tenacity, they emerged elite athletes. Moreover, in many instances they became medalists, standing up on the dais. That’s such a different story to that deflated kid always coming last.
“People have this idea that struggling is a bad thing, but struggling is brilliant. If you see someone struggle and overcome it, it is infectious. It makes you feel good to be alive”.
Kurt Fearnley: Pushing the Limits. Kurt is an Australian Paralympic Gold Medalist among other achievements.
I have absorbed so many stories from the Paralympics and the stories I’m hearing and telling pertain to Australian athletes. I wanted to share a bit of Brayden Davidson’s journey to Rio. The 18-year-old long jumper, was born with cerebral palsy.
As a 6 year old, Brayden Davidson was that kid. Always coming last in sport. Always the last kid to be picked for teams and, as I can share, this is completely demoralising and you can’t help feeling like a loser, a failure, somebody who’s been left behind.
As his Mum said:”He loved sport but he hated sports days because he was never fast enough, never strong enough,” she said.
Even though Brayden loved sport, his family could’ve directed him into other interests and kept him out of school sport. He could’ve spent PE lessons in the library. However, his grandmother was a woman of vision. After one particularly bad day at school as a six-year-old, he retreated to his late grandparents’ house where his dream to become a Paralympian was born.
“And [his grandma] said to him ‘look you’ve got a disability, the Paralympics that’s what you can do’.
“If you dare to dream, it can come true.”
Brayden initially set out to compete in swimming. However, his cerebral palsy made the muscles in his shoulders too tight. A coach told him he could not modify the strokes so he quickly lost his passion for swimming.
But just four weeks after taking up long jump about six years ago, Davidson was competing at his first junior national competition and his love for the sport has stuck.
Davidson defied all odds, and a groin injury, to jump of 5.62 metres to clinch gold in Rio. The jump was 11 centimetres better than his previous best and broke a Paralympic record. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-13/reynella-east-college-assembly/7840694
As a teenager, I shared Brayden’s humiliation in school sports. I had been born with undiagnosed hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. While my coordination wasn’t too bad before puberty, it really deteriorated then and my struggles were further exacerbated by a massive growth spurt.
I don’t know why PE teachers have to divide the class into teams and get the cool kids to pick out kids for their team. It’s totally humiliating for anyone at the bottom of the pack for whatever reason. Of course, no teacher would do this to an academically challenged student and yet your uncoordinated kid is fair game. Gets crucified each and every sports lesson. Naturally, it’s all too easy for these kids to retreat from sport altogether. That is when they really need that exercise and could really use the sort of cheer squads usually reserved for the jocks.
I have been lucky when it comes to my hydrocephalus. In what seemed like the ultimate bad luck, it was diagnosed when I was 25 and after a rapid descent into a neurological abyss, I had brain surgery. I had a VP shunt inserted which managed the pressure in my brain and I began what was a very slow a gruelling recovery process, which was rudely disrupted by a shunt malfunction and further surgery. For someone whose identity was entrenched in academic achievement and had graduated with an honours degree from university, this was crippling. Things couldn’t get any worse and from where I sat at the time, I could never see myself living independently again. I told a friend that “I can’t even look after a gold fish let alone kids”. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to spend the rest of their life with me. From where I was sitting then, I wasn’t dead but life had reached a full stop. Moreover, despite being told that “I am a human being, not a human doing”, I had to get back into my old work shoes and get my life back.
Ultimately, I did. I succeeded.
Perhaps even more unlikely, I met Geoff and found my soul mate and someone who accepted me as I was and just loved me. We got married. Bought a house and a couple of dogs and then had our two beautiful children.
Since then, we’ve been dealt a further blow when I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis (an severe auto-immune disease related to Muscular Dystrophy) and Institital Lung Disease.
While I haven’t made it to the Paralympics, I’ve conquered physical hurdles way beyond my dreams. Not just through my own efforts but the teachers who became “the wind beneath my wings”. People who slowly but surely unravelled all that ridicule I experienced in PE at school and believed in me instead.
My journey started out with an Adventure Camp with Muscular Dystrophy NSW. There I went down a water slide without my glasses on as well as having muscle weakness. I rode a camel, went sandboarding and complete shock of shocks, I rode a quad bike. I went from there to ski down Perisher’s Front Valley supported by the Disable Winter Sports’ Association and my instructor. I had a surfing lesson and most recently, I signed up for an adult ballet class expecting to spend my time sitting down but instead have mostly been keeping up with the class. It’s an absolute miracle and I’m so chuffed.
These experiences as a disabled person conquering physical hurdles in the sporting realm, have shown me just how important sport and dance are for everybody. Taking this further, the Paralympics provide athletes living with disability that higher place to aim for. After all, we each achieve more when we have an ambitious goal, a destination, something challenging to work towards. Everybody deserves that.
So, switch on the box and prepare yourself for some great sporting action from some very deserving sporting heroes.
Bring it on!
Have you been watching the Paralympics? Any favourite events or stories?