No spinning: their struggles and successes are so unforgettable they put humdrum, ho hum, Jane and Joe stories to shame.
I stupidly complain, and am set back, by a bunion. They, on the other hand, carry on undeterred, while truly physically or mentally impaired. We both try to hit personal bests but their obstacles are so much bigger I can’t fathom them, let alone figure out how they overcome them.
To a man and woman they’re unimaginably bold, but they, as they suffer and toil and strive, exhibit characteristics all winners have.
These athletes, whether they be blind, or have limbs amiss, or have legs of different lengths, or lack some mental capacities, to name but a few examples of impairments, reach for the stars, and reach our hearts (warming them too) as they work out and work out ways to excel - despite their seemingly calamitous circumstances.
Until now I had been somewhat disconcerted by Para-athletes. They take chances, strut their stuff in elite competitions; should they not be feeling sorry for themselves somewhere, nursing grievances, instead of coursing victorious on global stages like at these world championships coming up in Doha, Qatar October 21-31st, 2015? They’ve beaten their adversities. I can barely beat a common cold. I now realize my disconcertion was really embarrassment. Compared to them, I don’t measure up.
But reading and hearing of their stories I realize that though they may be missing this or that, or have too much of that or this - in the guts and grace fields - well, they have those traits in rare and delightful abundance. So they are human with extra bravery and class added on top.
Team America is sending 32 females and 52 males, their largest contingent ever, to Doha. The team reaped in 52 medals, second to winner Russia’s 53, in the 2013 championships in Lyon. Coincidentally, 52 world records were set at the French event. (These world championships are held every two years.)
But one must wonder, generally, how these Para-sports participants, in the States (and in Canada), didn’t succumb to the victim mentality that is all the rage in North America. Why haven’t they pined and whined, declared themselves victims? If anybody should be deemed as legitimate victims it would be them, right?
These people, either through birth, or events, were victims on the day (or days, weeks, months or years to follow) as their disabilities emerged. And, true, they may have felt victimized for a time, gone into a dark hole. But on the whole, they don’t have a victim mentality, don’t moan and groan on their situations, and don’t carp and caterwaul to what life has brought or taken from them.
They’re too busy living for that. They’re not passengers.
They’re players - leaders and heroes, role models for the rest of us, showing that no matter the impairment, one can make the best of life.
In fact, joking takes the place of moping. Here are a couple of lines from one Lex Gillette, an American blind guy who is the World and Paralympic record holder in the long jump. “Let's go out sometime. I have first-row parking at the mall.”
Or: “I'm going heads over wheels for you.”
They may be a bit corny, but the message is real. While these athletes have serious goals, they are not so self absorbed that they can’t look at their realities in a lighter vein.
Obviously, however, a guy like Lex would have inspirational credos as well. Like his trademark says: “No need for sight when you have a vision.” And, the matter is certainly up to debate, but Lex, because of repeated retina detachments, gradually lost his sight through his first eight years. To have sight, then lose it, as a kid? Wouldn’t that be tougher to adjust to than if one was blind from birth? Wouldn’t Lex feel the pain more of knowing what he had, to then lose it to anatomical misfortune – a misfortune that he in no way induced or exacerbated? How difficult would that be to overcome, mentally and physically? That’s a question almost too heavy to ponder.
Lex has not only mastered his sport, he’s mastered education, figuratively and literally. After getting an undergrad degree in recreation management he got a master’s in business administration. He’s also a singer and song writer. It’s not pandering to say his accomplishments are incredible and indelible.
Indelible is forever, but now is now. This: don’t do it later, do it now attitude drives athletes, like Australian sprinter Kelly Cartwright. She trains 7 days a week, 3 to 4 hours per session with a 2 hour commute each way.
The 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha will showcase 1,299 athletes with the same “do it now” behavior and commitment of Kelly’s. They’ll hail from 100 countries and will compete in 214 medal events.
And sometimes “those who have little in life can sometimes achieve a lot more” is a belief that Brazilian blind female sprinter, Terezinha Guilhermina lives by. As one of 12 siblings, money and food were scarce. Both parents worked. At 7, when her eye sight was deteriorating, she was bullied by a 14-year-old girl. Terezinha learned, then, how to run “very fast.” She laughs at the retelling.
But for the rest of us, it’s telling, how she can now laugh at her story of hard-to-believe adversities.
But believe it. Believe in them all. Terezinha and the others are awesome, even if they don’t win their event(s).
They’re winners already.