“So,” Ann asked me. “Which side of your body is paralyzed?”
“Neither,” I answered. I’d told her I’d had a stroke. It was a natural assumption. “But it’s the right side that …” I hesitated.
“Sucks,” she filled in.
“Well no,” I started to say. Then, “Yeah — sucks.” I smiled. I liked her. Therapists (always able-bodied) were constantly telling you not to call one side the “bad” side. Positive thinking and manifestation and all that crap. Here was a straight shooter.
Also in a wheelchair, Ann O’Brine-Satterfield founded U Can Ski 2 over 20 years ago. She’d won six national and two world championships as a disabled water skier. I’d found out about the free “learn to ski” clinic as I had most of my adaptive adventures, through the Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program.
No stranger to the program or the world of adaptive sports, the list of activities I’ve tried is long: wheelchair tennis, power soccer, rowing, surfing, snow skiing, hand cycling, bowling, billiards, aquatics, horseback riding and now water skiing. I’m bad at all of them. Or as Ann would say, I suck.
Alice Krauss, the director of the Brooks Program, initially suggested I try wheelchair tennis. I have no idea why. My coordination is so poor, I can’t even put my finger to my nose without poking myself in the eye, let alone connect a racket to a ball. In her defense, we hadn’t met yet. I’m sure I sounded quite capable over the phone. I mean, aside from the slur and all. After we’d met, she wasn’t exactly suggesting I sign up for archery. (Who would’ve thought there is adaptive archery?) I know better. I have no business anywhere near a bow and arrow.
Truthfully, I wasn’t half bad at horseback riding. I had dreams of the Paralympics before I learned the competition is in English Dressage. That means both hands hold the reins. I was riding Western with just my left hand. I’m sure they have adaptive equipment to make it work, (heck, I’ve seen a girl riding with no legs!) but I was already trekking to Georgia just to find a Western adaptive teacher. In the end, the time and expense weren’t worth it to me.
I thought I’d found my sport when I was introduced to power soccer. It doesn’t require contact of your body with the ball at all! Power wheelchairs are outfitted with metal cages and driven up and down an indoor court like bumper cars. Except players are supposed to hit the ball, not each other. I was bad at that too. My double vision got in the way.
Yet here I was again, hanging off the back of a boat as one of the “side skiers” counted down from three for the driver. Since it was my first time, I didn’t really have to do anything. I didn’t even have to hang on to the rope, though I can progress to that later. The rope attached directly to the sit ski I was in. It reminded me a lot of snow skiing, where even the slightest turn of your head guides the ski.
I’m not sure why I keep trying all these sports. Maybe, I’m more competitive than I like to admit. Maybe, I’m looking for something physical to be good at again. Or maybe, I like being part of a group that redefines what it means to be an athlete. Either way, time spent dreaming about a new goal, even if it’s just an hour, can’t be time misspent. Team USA Water Ski, here I come.