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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation

Yogi in the Mirror

y1I’ve been getting into something lately. I should say back into something, because certain things never really leave you. It’s yoga. I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with it for decades, but when I first became disabled it took a definite backseat position in my life. After all, many of the poses were simply not an option for me anymore.

Enter Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program once again.yogacl4 In this class of non-ambulatory participants, led by instructor Anna Dennis, we get out of our wheelchairs and onto big, thick mats. Volunteers assist us in moving into poses that stretch our tightened limbs. For many of us, it’s the only time of day we’ll leave the cramped confines of our chairs and assume any other position.ycl5 Shortened hamstrings and hip flexors are lengthened, spines are twisted, rib cages and hearts opened. It’s downright delicious. I’ve written about the Brooks programs before and told you about some new sport I’ve tried (like rock climbing!), but this is different. This is less a “what the hell, I’ll try it” kind of thing and more like coming home.

I think I discovered yoga back in college, at the gym, before even step aerobics was popular. Back then, I liked how pretty the poses looked in the mirror and was encouraged to learn I was naturally flexible. It’s fun to find something you’re good at when you’re not even trying. Yoga’s not supposed to be competitive, but others were impressed. It fed my ego. I went on to become a certified yoga teacher in 2001 and toyed with the idea of instructing others — until I remembered during my first teaching experience that I hate being in front of a class. I was so nervous, both before and during the class, that I could barely remember my sequence of poses, let alone correct anyone on how they were being done. I was in high school all over again with an overdue presentation. I left shaking, and aside from subbing a few classes, that, as they say, was that. I went back to being a student and saving for the latest cute yoga outfit.

Then in 2006, I had the brain hemorrhage. Luckily, my time as a yogi and a massage therapist had impressed upon me the importance of keeping limber and the dangers of prolonged sitting. As soon as I was strong enough to get in and out of the wheelchair, I took to the floor to see what I could still do, what was left of my practice.

Yoga then, was something to be done in the privacy of my own home where I was free to be not so pretty about it. These weren’t perfectly balanced trees or eagles that looked good in the mirror, this was sliding out of my wheelchair like so much dirty laundry to land in an ungraceful heap on the floor.

Yoga on the malecon!
Yoga on the malecon!

Over the years, I’ve kept at it — even trying some standing postures in the pool where it’s okay to fall. And passions have a way of bubbling up. I even found yoga during my month in Mexico, just blocks from where I was staying.

Now that I’m back to enjoying yoga in a group setting, I dare say I might have an advantage over some able-bodied yogis. I think real yoga is about the breath. About learning to look inward and settle your gaze there. My hemorrhage took my ego further out of the equation for me. It cured me of any desire to look in the mirror and compare myself and my abilities to those of the rest of my classmates. I turn inward more easily. My breath is different now. The inhales no longer match the exhales, but there is a deeper sense of gratitude for having the breath at all. And a greater compassion for and sense of oneness with my fellow yogis. And isn’t that what yoga is all about?yogacl2

Calling All Angels

Volunteer Angels

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I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives.

~Tracy Chapman

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It’s waterskiing time again! Please enjoy the great video put together for Brooks by John Lipscomb, check out Channel 4’s news coverage or read my blog from last year. (I should probably mention that the girl in the tiara is Ashley Heath, Ms. Wheelchair Florida — just because tiaras and waterskiing don’t normally go together.)

What struck me this year was the enormous number of volunteers it took to make this happen. A great many people took their weekend and did something for others instead of something for themselves. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about those that need help and those that give it. I guess it takes both to make the world go round.

But, here’s a secret. I’m kind of selfish. I honestly can’t say if, before the wheelchair, I would have spent the weekend hauling gear and pushing wheelchairs or curled up on the couch with a good book.

So, if you’re one of the helpers of this world (and you know who you are,) then I commend you and thank you. If you’re not, maybe it’s not too late. Or if you’re like me and you’ve realized it’s too late to be of much help now, then what a marvelous lesson we’ve learned for next time.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

~Winston Churchill

Jack of All Sports … Master of None

On Victory Lake: Photo by John Lipscomb

“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.

Adaptive equipment: Photo by Alice Krauss

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.

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