“She’s A Really Good Swimmer”

Two cousins gave me my first swim lessons, basically by letting me fend for myself & pulling me up for air occasionally. Summers were spent in the pool so that’s where I wanted to be. It didn’t matter how I got in there. I’ve never been the biggest fan of lifejackets so I learned to swim early and often.

“Did you hear that Michael Phelps has wicked ADHD & the only way he could focus was under water because he couldn’t hear anything.”

Whether that’s true or not for Michael Phelps I can tell you it is true for some. Go jump in a pool, stay fully submerged, and then look around. What can you hear? Not much. Swimming is as simple as it is complicated, swim to the “X” at the other end. It’s pretty close to perfect as far as focal points go, especially if you’re looking for ways to block people out.

I don’t talk about it often but I was bullied in school, most notably grades 5-8. I was the new girl in the world’s smallest class, I’m also different from your average person, and girls can be relentless. I could hear people whispering and I knew it was about me so I did what I always did. I pretended I couldn’t hear them.

”She’s a really good swimmer”

I had met two of my classmates the summer before school started in the pool of the club our parents belonged to. I had hoped we’d become friends once school started, no such luck, but they acknowledged I was good at something.

I was around 11 by the time swim lessons involved swimming full laps. My first lesson was pretty exhausting but by the end of the swimming “term” I was able to keep up with the class. It was breaking through a glass ceiling for me. I was finally able to swim full laps, the catch is, in my mind that meant being “old enough.”

As soon as I could swim full laps I had a friend teach me how to do a flip turn and practiced it endlessly. We’d turn on the flood lights & go swimming at midnight in my aunt’s pool when we couldn’t sleep. I wore one piece racing suits & swim caps. I was ecstatic when my aunt agreed to buy me my 1st pair of mirrored goggles. I was just as heartbroken when I lost them over the winter.

I hated the words “adult swim” because the adults were allowed to swim laps only, and that’s all I wanted it do. I watched the swim team from afar every year wishing I could wear the same blue racing suit.

I read Andi’s love/hate relationship with her daughter being on the swim team.

It stirred up some feeling, mixed ones at that.

One summer I asked my mom to ask “Coach” if I could try out for the swim team (I was too intimidated by him to do it on my own), maybe practice with them a few times if he thought I wasn’t ready. I knew I probably wasn’t as ready as he would’ve liked but I knew he could work with me.

He had said “No.”

He knew he wasn’t going to let me join the team no matter how well the tryout went so he didn’t see the point in my trying.

I was crushed. If he didn’t even want me to try out I guessed I wasn’t a swimmer at all.

“Coach is a jerk. You wouldn’t have had a good time on the swim team anyway.”

It took a wise all-knowing high school aged babysitter to help me get past it, because when you’re in middle school high schoolers know more than your parents. She had also known “Coach” longer than I had and had friends survive life on the swim team. She was also the one who helped me survive the girl-piranhas. Her opinions were more than valued in my house.

I get where Andi’s coming from.

It’s hard to watch someone come in last. I often watch World Championships & even Olympics where someone comes in not just last, but painfully so. I use to wonder why someone would allow such an embarrassment for their country. One day while watching a race it hit me, like a ton of bricks.

This is the biggest stage anyone can compete on, ever. No matter what happens they made it this far. That in itself is an honor & deserves to be respected. Sometimes “just showing up” does make a difference. And just like someone has to come in first someone has to come in last. It’s one of the not so fun aspects of life.

I understand Sarah Kate all too well.

She’s having fun with her friends, and probably making a few new ones. She’s not she-who-has-cerebral-palsy is having fun with her able-bodied friends. She’s having fun with her friends.

That’s enough. In fact, that’s plenty.

Coming from a girl who wasn’t even allowed a tryout

Just knowing Sarah Kate is allowed to compete makes my loss not feel like one any longer, it’s a sign of progress.

Although it would be nice to find that coach after all these years and show him what I’m made of.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 9, 2012

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Lifeguards Do More Than Save Lives

I always found it odd when people said I was “more than up for the challenge” while I was growing up, especially when I really wasn’t given a choice in the matter. However, those types of voices get fewer as you get older, and I’ve discovered that I really do like a challenge.

One day while leaving the pool I noticed that there would be a swim challenge. After looking at the flyer, and checking my unreasonable expectations at the curb, I signed up.

I’m not the biggest fan of lifeguards, especially ones I see all the time and they act like they can’t be bothered by anything. So, my least favorite part of the swim challenge was that a lifeguard had the sign off on the number of laps I swam each day.

There were a few problems with this:

  1. No one other than the swimmer was counting the laps.
  2. Most of the lifeguards were clueless about this challenge so asking them to sign off came as a surprise.
  3. Keeping the record sheet dry was difficult, to say the least.

I had a feeling from the beginning that I wouldn’t reach the end point of the virtual swim but I still held out hope that I just might make it anyway. At some point, I realized there were few days left and I wasn’t even going to make it to the half way mark. I was really thinking I would make it at least that far.

Feeling defeated I thought about taking my foot off the gas and taking a few intentional rest days, but I also wanted to see just how far I would get by the end date. On one of the last days I got out of the pool and approached the lifeguard after writing in my laps.

Swim Challenge 16 Close Up

I didn’t reach my goal but that lifeguard refueled me, which people need once and a while.  It took some of the sting out of not reaching my goal and encouraged me to try if the opportunity ever comes around again.

Lifeguards are on deck in case a life (or more) needs to be saved but sometimes they don’t just do that, and that’s just as important.

Kilimanjaro

I love mountains.

I love looking at them. I love wondering how many people are climbing them at that very moment. I love thinking about how many people have climbed them. I love thinking about how many people will be repeat climbers (or hikers).

Even so I have healthy limits.

I know portions of Rainier are attainable as are Olympus.

Kilimanjaro is off limits.

Really cool, but off limits.

I hate treadmills.

From the first time I was ever put on a treadmill I’ve hated them. For some reason it became the first step to attempting to transition a patient from PT to a self driven exercise program, kind of hard when no one could come up with anything other than a walk on a treadmill.

When the treadmill first came up while at the gym, because we usually discuss to some extent before do, I divulged my hatred for the machine, it bores me to death. I need to be entertained to some extent while on a treadmill.

If I could pull an Oprah and play scrabble on my iPad while walking that could work.

But that would require an iPad.

And the ability to spell.

Maybe that wouldn’t work so well.

So the treadmill is used sparingly, because the word, “bored” is right up there with “can’t” or “no.”

Even so every few weeks or so I get on the treadmill (with the trainer or exercise physiologist standing by because I will get off) because it’s one of the few ways my glute muscles will actually get going (or “fire.” “Firing” muscles are always a good thing, so I’m told)

What is done on the treadmill is usually left for when I’m actually on the treadmill, and most of the time it’s for very good reason:

“I call this Kilimanjaro.”

(I clutched the treadmill to override the urge to jump off of it)

Apparently “Kilimanjaro” means for every minute on the treadmill you increase the incline by one. Then you do it again.

(I think, I deliberately wasn’t watching the settings change. I just walked.)

It takes about 20 minutes.

(The longest I’ve EVER been on a treadmill. EVER)

Do you want to know the most shocking part?

I didn’t die. I didn’t even want to die by the end of it.

I just wanted to be done for the day.

(Which didn’t happen)

I’ve done my Kilimanjaro. What’s yours? Have you done it yet?

*A similar version of this post was written on January 28, 2011

PwDs Are People Too

For some reason people with disabilities (PwDs) are often seen as less than human or in some way super human, and this is just one of the many binaries we get put into. It’s frustrating, but at the same time a fact of life that we have to deal with, no matter the disability.

Just because I have CP doesn’t mean I don’t deal with the same things “normal” people do.

I get up and I go to work every day, just like everyone else.

I go to work and I make a life for myself, just like everyone else.

I’m making a life for myself, it may not look like I thought it would but I make it work, just like everyone else.

I’m making it work, sometimes because I don’t have any other choice, just like everyone else.

I make choices every day to get one step closer to my dreams and goals, just like everyone else.

I redirect my focus when my choices don’t get me one step closer to my dreams and goals, just like everyone else.

I make plans for what I think my life will look like in 5, or 10, or 15, years, just like everyone else.

I get mad when things don’t go according to the plan I had in my head, just like everyone else.

I lay in bed almost every night and think through my day, just like everyone else.

As I think though my day I think about tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that, just like everyone else.

As I think about my tomorrows I fill them with my dreams and hope that one day they will become reality, just like everyone else.

Next time you think a person with a disability is just so much different than you are think about what you think about every day. There’s a good chance that person with a disability is having at least half of the same thoughts you are that very same day.

 

One Word: A Review

“I think this year will be easier to tackle if I just call it what it is from the get go, rather than being in denial for an unspecified period of time.”

When I wrote that last year I truly had no idea what I was getting into, other than I was being secretly overly optimistic.

Transition was my word for 2016.

And boy was it.

All the things I thought might happen did:

-I became one of the “older” students on campus.

-I’m now more an advisor than an advisee.

-My degree program has a new director, who has made me think more about my potential impact for the Church, and in the best way possible (I think, I hope).

-I’ve learned more about myself when it comes to achieving goals.

-I’ve tried to enjoy the steps along the way while keeping the end in mind, rather than let it become my sole focus.

And then some:

-I changed my schedule to better fit the life I want instead of worrying about what other people might say about my motivations.

-I’ve been trying to put school as the priority, which means devoting my mornings to coursework rather than feeling “awake” enough to do it.

-I joined a swim club, and although it’s been something of a culture shock it’s been overwhelmingly positive. There are still times when swimming sucks but that’s bound to happen no matter how ideal the situation is.

-I ventured into podcasting, thinking it would be a one-time thing but it’s becoming an actual venture.

-I’ve actively participated in most of the changes in my life this past year, rather than having the change still occur with resistance on my part.

Now What?

This is the 3rd time I’m participated in HAWMC. Each year it comes at a less than ideal time and by the end I can’t wait to write the last post. This year is no different. As much as I get out of blogging everyday this time I just need to be able to check this off the list and move onto the next thing.

What is the next thing?

Practically speaking, there’s a paper to write, podcasts to record, and Christmas shopping to finish (which should’ve been finished by now, because I’m one of those people who shops throughout the year to avoid the added stress).

Ideally speaking, I have a project coming soon. Just how soon? It’s at the editor’s but I’ve already seen what may well become the final product. It turns out I’m very bad at providing feedback short of ripping something, anything, to shreds.

Then there’s grad school to finish which includes a capstone that needs writing. I feels like I’m in the middle of a triathlon I couldn’t find the time to train for, after I signed up and paid the entry fee, so I kind of should do it.

All of this pretty much leaves my career up to chance, word of mouth, and pure luck. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to speak and write more in the last year. It just hasn’t happened. I’m trying to see it as a positive, to give me the time to devote to other things without having to decide what to do or overextend myself.

That doesn’t mean that my life as an advocate is going to be put on the back burner. Another degree will add another dimension to my business, to my advocacy work, at least that’s the plan anyway. HAWMC isn’t the end of the line, it’s a stop on a journey to something greater. But like I’ve said already, the month has been long enough. It’s time to move on to the other things I have on the calendar on the way to where I eventually see myself being.

However, I’m available if someone needs me.

I’m participating in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. If you want to find out more about Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge visit their blog, Facebook, Twitter. You can find more posts by searching #HAWMC.

Motivation Monday

I admire people who can live by one motto for most of, if not their entire lives. Mainly because I am not one of them. I’m the person who had seemingly random quotes posted around their dorm room, and sometimes down the hallway of their apartment.

My motto has changed, and changed often, but there’s one I keep coming back to in the last year and some.

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I like this motto for a few reasons. The first is that it’s simple, at least in understanding.

The execution can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

In a way, it implies that although you can have a bad day it can be a singular thing.

There’s acknowledgement of history but greater hope for what can come.

It can be applied to short and/or long term goals.

There’s the implication that there’s just as much to be gained from the journey to reach a goal as well as the goal itself.

It reminds me that my best days are ahead of me if I want them to be and work for that ideal, no matter what others may say or think.

I’m participating in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. If you want to find out more about Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge visit their blog, Facebook, Twitter. You can find more posts by searching #HAWMC.

Luck Is For The Unprepared

A few months ago I achieved a lifelong dream. I’m not exaggerating either.

I dove into a pool. Nothing unusual really, except this time I dove in after a buzzer.

I (finally) swam in a meet.

When I showed up for my first team practice in the fall I knew competing could be a possibility, but I kept my expectations low. Even when the email was sent with available meets I didn’t answer. Why would someone think I would compete? Why would I expect the “OK” after two decades? I settled for being able to be on a team, that was enough.

It wasn’t until I saw “TBD” next to my name that I thought my coach might be serious about my entering a competition, even still I was prepared to hear “No,” right up until I was at the end of the lane waiting for those three magic words “Take your mark.”

So how did the day go?

There’s a saying, “Luck is for the unprepared.”

If there’s any grain of truth in that at all then I got lucky, really lucky.

I set really low goals for myself for the meet, so low in fact that my coach had to talk me into raising them a bit.

Still, my only goals were to not come in dead last, if I didn’t drown first.

I was planning on swimming in 6 events, which ended up being 5 the day of the event, which ended up being 4 because of a disqualification at the start of one race, which really ended up being a blessing when was all was said and done.

I was happy with how I swam, even if I wasn’t really looking forward to swimming in some events, and would have preferred to swim others. I prepared for what I planned for and planned what I prepared for.

I didn’t come in dead last or drown either.

I prepared myself in any way I could. I scheduled extra practices in a colder pool, because everyone kept telling me how freezing the pool would be. I asked hundreds of questions. I researched and planned my meals. I sought out ways to become faster. I had contingency plans for my contingency plans. I even attempted to desensitize my nervous system to the starting bell.

Being my first meet I needed to get classified first, which included a swim. Having no idea what to expect in that respect I was extremely happy with how it went. I was also happy I invited a friend to come along, because in hindsight I have no idea what I would’ve done without him.

I had some time between my classification and the warm up time so I had something to eat and reviewed the plan for the day, again.

Everyone was right about the pool. It was freezing but I had prepared myself for much worse so I convinced myself that once I got going I’d be fine. And true to form I collided with a teammate, which was even captured on film. As funny as I found the moment I hope “collide with another swimmer” doesn’t end up on my list of pre-race rituals.

I had decided pretty quickly that I should have someone on deck with me so I asked my friend if he would stay on the deck rather than head up to the bleachers. I figured at some point I might need someone to peel me off the roof and if there was one person there capable of doing the job it’s him. I guess that’s what happens when you share so many interests, you’ve been friends for over a decade and he’s peeled me off a ceiling or two before.

Little did I realize how much I’d need him for practical matters, like remembering my heat and lane numbers or when would be a good time to eat something.

My first race was one of my most comfortable strokes but I was focused most of my worry on turns. Short course pool means more turns. If my third race was my first race I think I would’ve been a complete mess the whole day so having a race I was more confident in helped a great deal.

It was after I touched the wall after my first race when I realized how far out of my comfort zone I was and how much I would need to rely on the practice I had put in, pure adrenaline, and my self-confidence.

I couldn’t see a thing (for one). Without my glasses I can’t see much. I didn’t realize just how much until I was somewhere I had never been before, which is a problem when you need to get in the correct lane and/or see the flags hanging over the pool. But it does give me the opportunity to swim my own race, because I can’t see anyone else.

The day went by fairly quickly I think I only looked at the clock (meaning a traditional wall clock) once and made a comment about how it couldn’t possibly be so late in the day (even though I had had a pretty long day at that point).

It was probably a good thing I had the schedule I did for two reasons 1) There was little to no time to think about the details I concerned myself with for countless practices and 2) my muscles didn’t have much time to become too tight, or too loose.

I won’t say that having some of my expectations for the meet met made me happy with how the day went because it’s not exactly true. More than anything the meet gave me a chance to really see what I need to work on for next time, because I wasn’t even out of the pool after my first race before I knew there would be a next time.

Even though I was able achieve a lifelong dream I now know how unprepared I was for the day, even with all of the preparation I had put in. If luck is indeed for the unprepared then I can honestly say I was one of the luckiest people on the planet for at least one day in my life.

On Marathons & Misconceptions

There used to be a meme floating around F@cebook about F@cebook in college vs F@cebook in your 20s & 30s, basically in college your timeline is full of party pictures and other events whereas in your 20s & 30s your feed is filled with baby pictures and marathon times.

Well the joke’s on social media because the 20s & 30s timeline started in my college days, at least the marathon times part.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been friends with people who have considered themselves runners, probably just as long as I’ve had swimmer friends. In fact, I had friends who would just run laps around the playground at recess. I’d sit there and watch, wondering what the appeal was, because even if I could run there’s no way you’d see me doing it, especially for fun.

I’ve even had housemates who have never run a marathon before run in one because we lived in a town that hosted a marathon every year, while I stayed home and watched Walk The Line, again. Yup, I’m that person that can’t even be bothered to get up early to wish people luck, although I’m pretty sure I told at least one of them “just don’t die,” at some point before the day of the race.

During the 1st group retreat I made in the Northwest while people were asking each other how they liked their new homes. At this point most of the runners in the group were aware of the fact that my house was in a marathon city. There was a small window during that weekend where I thought we’d have countless people in our house, people we barely knew. Although I don’t think it would’ve bothered me as much by the time of the marathon came around, a small part of me is thankful that it never came to fruition.

I remember one person in particular asking me if I had heard about the marathon and if I was considering running it. Now I realize that at this point she had only just met me but I thought it was pretty clear that I was having some trouble getting around the wide open spaces of Eastern, flatter than flat, Montana. But then she asked if I ever thought of getting “one of those wheelchairs you can run with,” before I could laugh.

I explained that it was hard enough to get anything covered by insurance and something like a racing chair is horribly expensive, especially if it’s made well and for the user (which it should be whenever possible), and not covered by insurance because it’s considered recreational. Still she encouraged me to consider it “because people with disabilities run all the time.”

Lest we forget I find staring at a black line at the bottom of the pool a lot less boring than running just because. I’m aware it makes no sense to a majority of people but I’m not one of those people. I admit that running a marathon is mentally and physically challenging (like swimming) it’s just not a challenge I’d find fulfilling (I don’t think).

That being said if the so-called “runner’s high” is even a fraction of the rush you get after a sprint set with a new personal best time then I maybe, sort of, kind of, understand why people run.

I think the able-bodied community has misconceptions about persons with disabilities and sports. In my case it seems to be that people think I’m all into every sport I can get into or I participate in sports as a form of therapy (and I’m sure there are others out there I just haven’t heard them). The truth is, neither one is the case, for reasons to lengthy to get into here and now.

Honestly I had a negative point of view of adaptive sports for many years, partly because they seemed too separate from “real sports” for me. Also I was usually one of the least disabled kids participating so I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just play with the normal kids, because I saw myself as more able-bodied than disabled.

Once I understood the true nature of adaptive sports I kept my ear to the ground but wasn’t very optimistic because adaptive sports costs money, just like able-bodied sports. And at that point, as well as this point, I don’t have much money for stuff I might quit anyway.

People with disabilities are more like those without disabilities than people think. I think I’ve said this before, and more than once. We’re just as apt to like sports or not like sports as everyone else.

However, I will say that whether or not someone has spent most of their life in physical therapy in exchange of, or in addition to normal childhood sports related activities can have an effect on whether or not they’ll participate in recreational sports later on.

Let’s not forget that things like having surgery and the recovery process can be marathons within themselves.

I realize that I probably just contradicted myself but my last 3 points in particular were ones that I feel needed to be made, even if it does make my point less clear, because my points, like life, aren’t always clear but still important.

Running is great, but it isn’t for everybody, regardless of ability. If the only grounds for participating in an activity was the slightest chance of basic ability, then almost anyone or rather almost everyone would participate in Ironman Kona, climb Kilimanjaro, be a multi gold medal winning Olympian, and God only knows what else.

Not everyone is meant to be good or interested in everything but if you know someone (or are someone) with a genuine interest in an activity, especially physical, be as supportive as possible (or try to seek out as much support as possible). Desire is one thing. Talent is another. Access is yet another, which is often overlooked and/or taken for granted.

The Difference Between Want & Can

I can’t remember when I learned the difference between “want” and “can” but I’m pretty sure I knew the difference before I learned how to spell them or how to use them correctly in a sentence.

I haven’t mastered the discernment between the two but most of the time the choice is made for me (and I have scars and many more childhood memories to prove it). I use what I’ve learned in future decision making, and that usually means I become more cautious. Sometimes this system serves me well, other times, not so much.

I took up swimming again as a way to possibly heal my hip and get some additional exercise while doing something I truly loved, what it’s evolved into is so much more. I’ve not only gotten some hard physical healing but also mental challenges I wasn’t expecting. I still find swimming relaxing but not in the typical way people think when they think of the word “relax.”

One of the benefits of swimming with a coach is discovering new boundaries for “want to” and “can do,” and it doesn’t always come from your coach.

Whenever I’ve been asked what I want to swim I always say something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I’ve wanted to be a competitive swimmer and I usually end with “You asked what I wanted to do, not what I thought I could do, because those are two completely different things.”

I can’t be the 1st human on the planet to voice such a sentiment and I’m certainly not the 1st one to ever feel this way.

One of the best, albeit weirdest, gifts Cerebral Palsy gives a person is the knowledge that “want” and “can” aren’t words that can be used interchangeably without a certain level of determination and hard work. There are times when you do get lucky but it’s not often.

We want to do things but sometimes our muscles, thanks to our brains, won’t let us. The difference between “want” and “can” is easier to figure out, but make no mistake that doesn’t make it easier to accept.

Plus, the divide between the worlds of “want” and “can” are often further apart for people with neuro-muscular conditions, which CP is.

Sometimes changing your “want” to be more in line with the “can” is in order, other times it takes a lot of work because changing the “want” just isn’t possible. And again, sometimes you just get lucky, which usually comes after a lot of hard work.

I’ll give you a few practical examples:

Zachary knew he couldn’t be a professional baseball player but that didn’t mean he couldn’t write about sports.

John wanted to join the Navy but couldn’t after he failed the physical so he went home and practiced until he could pass the physical.

I want to swim a 200m IM (because a 400m IM is just too insane, even for me) but I can’t without putting in some serious training time first.

I’ve learned to appreciate the differences between “want” and “can.” I don’t always like how big of a difference there is between the two but that often brings up a question which needs to be answered:

How bad do you want it?