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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program

Find Your Magic

thYoga is working its magic again. To be fair, my improved self-esteem could be attributed to several factors. I’m working out at a “regular” (able-bodied) gym and getting stronger. There’s the almost daily meditation keeping me centered. And I’ve been eating healthier (for the most part). Still, there’s no denying it — yoga works wonders for me.

I had an epiphany last week. For the first time in eight years, I didn’t want to be in anyone’s body but my own. Truly. Not that I spend a lot of time wishing I had more physical capabilities than I have — I don’t. At least I think I don’t. I have spent a lot of time comparing. Comparing my body and its abilities with other disabled bodies. (It’s not even close to a fair fight to compare myself to able bodies, so I don’t.) But if comparing is the same thing as wishing, than I confess, I’m guilty of wishing I was disabled in a different way.

For eight years now, I’ve been trying different adaptive sports through Brooks: wheelchair tennis, handcycling, water-skiing, power soccer, rock climbing and horseback riding, just to name a few. The thing about adaptive sports is that they can be adapted to suit most any disability. This doesn’t mean, however, that just anyone can excel at them. For me, with my poor coordination, attempting almost any sport becomes laughable. Good for my spirited sense of humor. Not so good for my confidence.

My bad eyesight and double vision didn’t help matters. But it did help to explain my poor performance. “So you see two balls coming at you?” the manager of the adaptive program asked me on the tennis court.

“Yes,” I replied.

“So how do you know which one to hit?” My problem exactly.

soccerAt most sports, particularly those involving a ball, it seemed everyone was better than me. The grass was always greener. The way I saw it, amputees often didn’t have to be in a wheelchair and paraplegics had perfect upper body control. But me? Take my spastic movements, garbled speech and chameleon eyes and it’s not hard to see why I felt like Goofy on the pity-party train to the Magic Kingdom.

Enter Adaptive Yoga, where volunteers help guide our limbs into stretches. Now this I can do! My muscles remember the poses and with a little help, I can still get there. No ball involved. And I don’t feel goofy. Not even a little bit. Yoga teaches me to treasure me. I relish the fact that I can move everything and still have everything. I’m reminded to be grateful that I’m not in pain and don’t need to take medication. Yoga fertilizes my lawn till it looks just as green. Right where I am.

The intention, of course, is not to make anyone feel bad about their own abilities or lack thereof. It’s to remind you that regardless, there’s something out there for you that supports you where you are right now. That makes you feel good about yourself, too. Maybe for you, it’s basketball, or an adaptive sport. Maybe it’s not a sport at all. Maybe you’re a mean knitter. Maybe it’s your mind or your voice and you have some story to tell. It took me eight years, but I’ve found my thing and I’m celebrating it. Find your thing, too.th2

 

 

Tough Stuff

I recently attended another Southern Slam Quad Rugby Tournament.  The difference this year was that our Brooks team was split up — all the teams were made up of various other teams. I have a hard enough time following the action as it is. I missed the color-coordinated uniforms clearly identifying who to root for, but I hear it’s more fun for the athletes — meeting and playing with different people from all over. If you’ve never checked out the sport – you don’t know what you’re missing. Take a look at my post from last year, complete with photos and video. I’ve also changed the title from Tough Guys to Tough Stuff in honor of the couple ponytails I saw in there swinging.

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One quadriplegic furiously chases down another as the two men move from their locked positions. Their wheelchairs race and then WHACK!  The clang of metal on metal rings out and one wheelchair crashes on its side, its occupant suspended helplessly. In any other setting, this would bring people running to assist, but here, a referee casually walks over and picks up the ball before someone rights the dangling player.

This is Quad Rugby, a.k.a. Murderball, and it’s all just part of the action. And having been to several games, I can tell you — there’s plenty of action. The rules are pretty simple. Each team tries to get the ball through the goal on their respective side of the court. The offense passes or carries the ball, while the defensive team blocks. There are fouls, rebounds and a lot of back and forth. It’s kind of like basketball, but without the hoops or dribbling. And, in my opinion, it’s more exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this video of the Brooks Bandits (Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program) playing in the recent 5th Annual Southern Slam Quad Rugby Tournament.

It’s disconcerting at first, watching people in wheelchairs slam into each other. But then you realize, these guys are defying stereotypes and redefining what it means to be handicapped. While a friend and I watched an away game in Atlanta at one of the premier rehab hospitals in the country, a woman next to us had just met the parents of a 16 year-old who’d been severely injured in an accident. “Bring him down here,” she told them in the elevator that led from patient rooms to the indoor arena. “He needs to see what’s possible.”

I read a memoir by disabled cartoonist John Callahan in which he says he never forgot his first sight of wheelchair basketball players darting around and popping wheelies in the halls of his hospital. It gave him hope through the dark days to come. And the message? Life goes on. Goes on well. In fact, in the disabled world, inviting the Quad Rugby guys to your party is like inviting the football players back in high school. They’re the cool kids on the disabled schoolyard.

For those of you not in the know, quadriplegia means without good use of any of the four limbs (not to be confused with paraplegia, the loss of use of two limbs, usually by spinal cord injury.) Quadriplegics come in all shapes and sizes with greatly differing injuries and abilities. For example, I’m a quadriplegic. And I couldn’t catch or throw a ball if my life depended on it. Unless it was a beach ball. And even that’s questionable. Plus, I’m sure my double vision would get in the way if anyone was foolish enough to let me out on a court. There are quads who can walk (usually brain injured,) but many have suffered a spinal cord injury where the break was high enough to affect hand motor function or grip strength. I’ve seen double amputees playing Quad Rugby and one gentleman in Atlanta, wheeling his chair with a duct-taped elbow, making the former massage therapist in me cringe at the repetitive motion injury he was undoubtedly causing. Then I remembered — he has bigger problems to worry about.

Regardless of the difference in our abilities, we’re all disabled. We want, like anyone else, to belong somewhere, be part of something. These guys like being physical again and playing as part of a team. I enjoy the individual sports, like horseback riding or swimming, but with the camaraderie of a group of people to who, in many ways, I can relate. Everyone wants to look in the mirror of society and see themselves reflected there. And what you get from these games, or any adaptive sport, either as a participant or a spectator, is the sense that life is not over. Not by a long shot.

The Challenge

130309_0005This past Saturday (yesterday to many of you) was The Brooks Rehabilitation Challenge Mile, one of the many smaller “runs” hosted alongside the Gate River Run. There are several reasons why I like participating in the event (this was my second year — read last year’s post here).

Firstly, I like hanging with this group of people because I’m free to be myself. People laugh with me instead of making a huge deal out of it when I pick up a little speed on an unseen decline. It’s nothing here to have muffin crumbs on my face or be seen peeling a banana with my teeth.130309_0008

130309_0004But more importantly, this event reminds me that it’s about encouragement, not competition. I couldn’t help but notice this as I watched people of all abilities cross the finish line. When one gentleman, who had made it most of the way in his wheelchair rose to walk the last several feet, the crowd cheered his name for what felt like a good five minutes. I think most of us would rather have our ability back, but it’s certainly true that when the challenge is tougher, the victory is sweeter.

Miles Apart

As we crossed the finish line, people cheered and yelled our names. We were downtown, along with hordes of people, participating in the events of the Gate River Run.  We even got medals. Our time? A thirteen-minute mile.

This time, things were a bit different than when I used to do the run with my friends. For starters, instead of making it to the end on my own two feet, I was pushed in my wheelchair. My goal then was a nine-minute mile, sustained for 9.3 miles. This distance was just a mile (the Brooks Challenge Mile to be exact.) But when I was one of thousands of runners, no one ever cheered my name. I never came close to winning a medal. And I never got quite the same feeling of camaraderie.

When David, a friend I met through Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program, first asked me to go, my initial thought was —  no thanks. I don’t like calling attention to myself or my disability. The last thing I wanted to do was take part in some kind of Cripples On Parade function. (By the way, I hate that word, but the humorist writer in me thought it fit.)

Then David mentioned he needed someone to push. Faced with his own balance issues, he needed something sturdy (like me in my wheelchair) to hold on to. There are so few times I get to be of service to someone else. I quickly reconsidered. Besides, it might be fun. I underestimated just how much.

There seemed to be every kind of disability imaginable. And every kind of mobility aid — wheelchairs, walkers, canes and prosthetics. Able-bodied folk helped push wheelchairs, steady those on foot or guide the vision-impaired. Everyone cheered for everybody else.

Back when I could run the whole course, it seems me and my friends were caught up in the whole competition aspect of it all. This was more about support. I don’t mean to say it was more fun — well, yeah I do. It was more fun. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the feel-good stuff, but I was struck by how good it did feel.

All of us had faced our own personal struggles. Fought against obstacles to be there. It may just have been a mile, but when a challenge has this much meaning, it might as well be a marathon.

Now: with David and sister, Gwen
Then: Running the River Run

Tough Guys

One quadriplegic furiously chases down another as the two men move from their locked positions. Their wheelchairs race and then WHACK!  The clang of metal on metal rings out and one wheelchair crashes on its side, its occupant suspended helplessly. In any other setting, this would bring people running to assist, but here, a referee casually walks over and picks up the ball before someone rights the dangling player.

This is Quad Rugby, a.k.a. Murderball, and it’s all just part of the action. And having been to several games, I can tell you — there’s plenty of action. The rules are pretty simple. Each team tries to get the ball through the goal on their respective side of the court. The offense passes or carries the ball, while the defensive team blocks. There are fouls, rebounds and a lot of back and forth. It’s kind of like basketball, but without the hoops or dribbling. And, in my opinion, it’s more exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this video of the Brooks Bandits (Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program) playing in the recent 5th Annual Southern Slam Quad Rugby Tournament.

It’s disconcerting at first, watching people in wheelchairs slam into each other. But then you realize, these guys are defying stereotypes and redefining what it means to be handicapped. While a friend and I watched an away game in Atlanta at one of the premier rehab hospitals in the country, a woman next to us had just met the parents of a 16 year-old who’d been severely injured in an accident. “Bring him down here,” she told them in the elevator that led from patient rooms to the indoor arena. “He needs to see what’s possible.”

I read a memoir by disabled cartoonist John Callahan in which he says he never forgot his first sight of wheelchair basketball players darting around and popping wheelies in the halls of his hospital. It gave him hope through the dark days to come. And the message? Life goes on. Goes on well. In fact, in the disabled world, inviting the Quad Rugby guys to your party is like inviting the football players back in high school. They’re the cool kids on the disabled schoolyard.

For those of you not in the know, quadriplegia means without good use of any of the four limbs (not to be confused with paraplegia, the loss of use of two limbs, usually by spinal cord injury.) Quadriplegics come in all shapes and sizes with greatly differing injuries and abilities. For example, I’m a quadriplegic. And I couldn’t catch or throw a ball if my life depended on it. Unless it was a beach ball. And even that’s questionable. Plus, I’m sure my double vision would get in the way if anyone was foolish enough to let me out on a court. There are quads who can walk (usually brain injured,) but many have suffered a spinal cord injury where the break was high enough to affect hand motor function or grip strength. I’ve seen double amputees playing Quad Rugby and one gentleman in Atlanta, wheeling his chair with a duct-taped elbow, making the former massage therapist in me cringe at the repetitive motion injury he was undoubtedly causing. Then I remembered — he has bigger problems to worry about.

Regardless of the difference in our abilities, we’re all disabled. We want, like anyone else, to belong somewhere, be part of something. These guys like being physical again and playing as part of a team. I enjoy the individual sports, like horseback riding or swimming, but with the camaraderie of a group of people to who, in many ways, I can relate. Everyone wants to look in the mirror of society and see themselves reflected there. And what you get from these games, or any adaptive sport, either as a participant or a spectator, is the sense that life is not over. Not by a long shot.

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