[Nfbc-info] {Disarmed} The Paralympic Blues.

nancy Lynn seabreeze.stl at gmail.com
Sun Sep 4 13:10:23 UTC 2016

I got this from another list and thought you’d appreciate it.

Taken from the Disabilities series of the New York Times.

The Paralympic Blues. 
Emily Rapp Black is the author of 'Poster Child: A Memoir' and 'The Still
Point of the Turning World,' and an assistant professor of creative writing
at the University of California, Riverside.

The woman to my left wants to know what happened to me.

We're in a cycling studio, where for one hour we've been peddling away,
dripping sweat, with disco lights strobing across the spandex-clad
instructor at the front of the class..

I recite my familiar script while struggling to unbuckle a heavy shoe. I
lost my leg at 4; I wear a prosthesis; no, it wasn't cancer; yes, it goes
all the way up; no, it doesn't hurt; no, I don't know that woman who was on
'Dancing With the Stars,' or the other lady on the other show who tap danced
and was maybe married to a Beatle; and oh, how great that you had an uncle
who wore a wooden leg who had a good sense of humor in spite of all that;
yeah, bummer about that famous handsome athlete with no legs who killed his
girlfriend. 'Gives them a bad name,' the woman says, shaking her head.

I'm used to fielding these questions, used to being lumped in as one of
'them,' although I find tap dancing irritating and have zero in common with
a South African male double amputee professional sprinter convicted of
murder. I'm so practiced at telling my story that I anticipate my cycle
mate's response before I hear it. 'Well, you're an inspiration! If you can
do it, no excuse for me!

My new buddy presses her hand to her heart before raising it high in the air
for a sweaty fist bump. I slap on my widest fake smile, manage to yank off
my cleated spinning shoe, and say, 'Woot! as a way of signaling conversation
over but even as I do I have a sinking feeling that I'm about to be having
more conversations like this everywhere -- or at least more than usual. It's
Paralympics time again.

The Games begin in Rio on Sept. 7, which means that the bodies of disabled
athletes will soon be beaming into living rooms everywhere, and that for
nearly two weeks we will not be described as 'the disabled,' as if we were
part of a misshapen, drooling horde ? la 'The Walking Dead. No, we will be
overcomers. We will be inspirations. We will be superstars. We will be
heroes! We may even have theme songs.

I am not a Paralympian. Like all the other cyclists, I'm here because I have
fitness goals. I buy magazines that promise 'Your Best Body Yet! I cycle
because I'm vain. I like my miniskirts. But more than that, as a person with
a disability, I'm playing the long game. This body is the only one I've got,
and I need to take care of it.

Although Paralympians are getting the attention they have long deserved --
more media coverage; more professional sponsorship and endorsements -- the
tenor of the conversation about these athletes and about disabled bodies in
general makes it clear that they are misunderstood by most of the world and,
save for this brief period, largely unseen.

During the 12 days of the Paralympic Games, it will seem that we have sprung
directly from the technological imagination of the 21st century. Those iron
feet! Those wheelchair athletes and their superbuff biceps! But after the
medals are awarded we will retreat underground again -- into normalcy, I
guess, which is in fact a kind of oblivion when you have a body that is
either an object of pity or valorized as 'super' in order to be acceptable.
It seems that, temporarily, able-bodied people make a virtue of their sudden
awareness of disabled athletes. Truth is, we've been here all along.

I have been and have considered myself an athlete since the day I learned to
ski at age 6 at the Winter Park Adaptive Ski Program in Winter Park, Colo.,
up until now, when I'm in the process of shaving minutes off my mile time.
I'm tall; I like basketball. If I'd had two real legs I would have kept up
with ballet. But more than anything else, I like to be challenged
physically, and I especially love dark, sweaty rooms where people scream 'Go
team! or 'Mind over matter!

This would have been true, I believe, had I not lost my leg and lived and
moved in a prosthesis for 38 years. But it's true now, and physical activity
is a big -- if not defining -- part of my everyday life. It helps me keep up
with my toddler, it makes me feel sexy for my sexy husband. Being athletic
makes me happy. I don't want or need a medal for that.

My story is not inspirational; difficult at times, deeply sad at times,
because I'm a flawed human being living in a flawed world, one in which
women are often judged by their appearance above all else. I have not
overcome my disability, and I never will. I will live with it for the rest
of my life, and some days are better than others. Mine is an ordinary story
to which anyone in any body should be able to relate.

But, as is so often the case, a nonnormative body must be made to be
extraordinary, or what the sociologist Rebecca Chopp called
'super-cripples': people who reach a level of physical performance that
makes them seem 'normal,' their bodies palatable, acceptably different.
People with disabilities can't be just people -- a boundary between 'us' and
'them' must be established, if only to avoid the difficult truth that
disability in some form will almost certainly touch their lives in the

My own life is not very exciting. Certainly not terribly exceptional. Does
this make me a failed disabled person? Sometimes that's how it feels. But I
am satisfied with being -- in the words of a British friend -- 'quite
sporty,' a description I love, with its implications of buoyancy, ease, joy,
a balance of beauty and strength, and especially ability. These adjectives
are rarely (if ever) used to describe people with disabilities. I'll take

So although I will be watching those disabled athletes earn their props on
the big stage, I also admit to being weary of having to get up on my own
daily stage and field some embarrassing, prurient and occasionally
soul-crushing questions. I'm an ordinary athlete living an ordinary life. I
just happen to be doing it in a body many people might misunderstand, a body
that is a source of pride and of shame, and sometimes, like all of our
bodies on a good day, extraordinary.


Posted by: "Tony Swartz" <tbswartz at ptd.net> 

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