When I Grew Up

I don’t think I can come up with the full list of things I wanted to be when I grew up. So obviously none of the have panned out. However, I’m still waiting to “feel grown up,” never mind actually be grown up, so something could pan out eventually.

There was that time that my high school guidance counselor assumed that I would become a nurse because my mother’s a nurse. My mother then asked the guidance counselor if she had ever even met me before this one meeting, because if she knew anything she knew I would never be a nurse.

Point: Mom

Then there was that one time I was reviewing my health history with a nurse practitioner when he jokingly asked why I never considered become a physical therapist, my answer was “because I wanted to learn something new,” obviously.

I think I’ve had similar goals for why I wanted to be whatever I wanted to be at any given time.

I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and maybe help them see things a little differently.

It’s hard to say if I’ve achieved this goal but I’m working on it.

I’ve realized I spent a lot of time (probably far too much) trying to be something I’m not. It wasn’t that obvious, it was certainly subtle from my prospective, but with each change I’ve made I feel like I’m getting closer to what I’m supposed to be as grown up.

The funny thing is, if you have a weird sense of humor, I feel like who I’m meant to be as a grownup has been following me around for quite a while just waiting for me to turn around and embrace it.

So, what did I want to be when I grew up?

If you can think of it it’s probably something I thought I wanted to do for at least 5 minutes. None of it has panned out as of yet, somewhat thankfully I admit.

And let’s get real for a minute, I have CP I can’t just have any job I wanted (actually that applies for everyone regardless of ability). So, there were countless things I wanted to be when I grew up that I knew would never happen, so let’s all be thankful I was never interested in Ballet, for example.

I did want to be an Olympian. That was one of the few things I convinced myself I could do, even with CP. I just figured I’d automatically be one of those heartwarming human-interest stories you see between events and commercials.

This was before being rejected from even trying out for the swim team & before I knew there was this thing called the Paralympics for athletes with a variety of disabilities. I don’t want to close the door on my dreams of Olympic glory, but it may be a little late to make a run for Rio (and I’ll probably be too old for Tokyo?)

When it comes down to it I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives. I wanted to make them see things differently or think of something they’ve never thought of before. I never wanted to be someone’s inspiration, but if that happened along the way who am I to disagree.

Now all I have to do is grow up

*A similar version of this post was published on November 21, 2014

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Learning To Repeat

My hand touches the wall for what feels like the 100th time. This time I got it right.

Then I hear a voice behind me, telling me what I’ve done wrong, well more specifically, what I could have done better.

I’m disappointed, but only for a second or two, because this is why I’m here.

Doing something once is easy, repeating it is the hard part, I remind myself. It’s a piece of advice I was given when I was relearning to walk but it applies here too.

To the untrained eye a swim practice looks like chaos, (and/or completely boring) even though everyone is following a line that runs the length of the pool countless times. It’s for this reason that people think swimming, or more specifically swimmers are insane.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Here’s the thing, the majority of that definition doesn’t apply to swimmers, except maybe the insane part, but that’s not an all the time thing.

People think we’re doing the same thing, over and over expecting the same result.

In reality we’re making (probably small, seemingly unnoticeable) changes to achieve different results.

Then we have to repeat the process.

The hardest part, the repeat.

I’ve done this before, but never swimming, at least not in this way.

Is it frustrating? Yes.

Is it what I want to do? No.

I wish I had a brain that could compute things once and have my body follow, but I don’t have that kind of brain. Not only is it not part of my package, it’s not part of anyone’s package. But that’s not much comfort when your lungs are screaming for air, your muscles are burning, and you still managed to come up short in some way.

I’ve been here before. These feelings are not new. Oddly enough there is some comfort in this, as weird as it seems.

I’m not learning how to deal with new feelings in new situations. That’s a big plus, that my mental energy is pulled in one less direction.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was wondering if I’d ever feel “normal” like I was truly part of a group of people. So, in a way I’m happy to be frustrated because someone noticed that I could be better and wanted to help.

Learning to repeat isn’t easy and it’s not always fun, but when you finally achieve it it’s almost always worth it.

I Can See (It’s Not A Miracle)

I put my goggles on the same way each time, or at least I try to, it’s part habit, part superstition. So, when someone asks me about my goggles, like my coach did in the fall, it sometimes catches me off guard.

“Are those prescription goggles?”

I look down at my rainbow-colored goggles that clearly don’t have prescription lenses.

“You should get some, they’ll change your life.”

I’ve worn glasses since I was in preschool but I’ve always made do in the water; the back line was always wide enough and black enough to see, and after a few laps I can judge my approach pretty well, I know what numbers look like all blurred so I wouldn’t get into the wrong lane, or so I thought.

I looked up prescription goggles online and they aren’t any more expensive than the non-prescription ones, but I still put it off, for some of the seemingly irrational reasons available.

Like, not knowing what my prescription actually was. Honestly, until this process of goggle buying I did not know anything about my glasses. I have a guy who knows and I’m more than cool with that. After I called him and sought his advice I made a reluctant purchase, because they weren’t going to be my ideal goggles.

When they arrived, I looked at them with displeasure; they looked like the goggles most people wear (and now I know why). I spent money on something I didn’t really want and now I was just going to lose them, it was only a matter of time.

I wore them to practice, and I could actually see. I could see the clock, the lane numbers, I could see the walls from further away, and it turns out that black line wasn’t so clear before after all.

(It reminded me of Shelly’s post about her son’s experience with goggles)

I can even see the board after a race, which I always wanted to be able to see, but I really have mixed feelings about it.

But things still weren’t perfect. I still wanted my old goggles for one reason, they’re mirrored.

I’ve worn mirrored goggles since their invention, or close enough. It’s what I like best, and it turns out they do have added functional benefit, like keeping lighting glare out of my eyes. So, I bought another pair of goggles.

They still aren’t what I want but they’ve made things so much clearer for me, literally, so I really shouldn’t complain about it. Truth be told I’d probably still be wearing the same rainbow-colored goggles if my coach hadn’t noticed such a seemingly tiny detail.

I Pulled My Armpit?

I’ve been having issues with my right arm for months. I figured it was just lingering from my unfortunate encounter with a chair a few months ago. It would get better for a while and then not, and then get better and then not, and you get the idea.

I’m sure it’s not that big of a deal for most people but when your legs aren’t normal on a good day and your arm is sub-par you’re basically down to one fully functional limb on any given day.

I’m normally sore for a while after a trip too.

So, I just waited it out.

Until I thought maybe I should stop waiting.

I mentioned it to my trainer and he found a fairly large trigger point in the region of my scapula.

I texted a friend with a rehab background after my session to find out what she knew about it.

“Um, serratus anterior?……Basically the muscle on your side below your armpit.”

Awesome.

Wanting to know more about what I’ve gotten myself into I came home and looked it up for myself.

serratus-anterior

How someone can find an injury within this mess without the aid of additional studies is beyond me but I’m glad it’s possible, especially so early in the “Medical New Year” when I avoid any doctor related anything like the plague.

Being a swimmer with CP I’m realizing I have to be a different kind of careful when it comes to my upper body.  

“She’s A Really Good Swimmer” Redemption

When I first told you about my time on the swim team, or rather clear lack thereof, I felt like something was missing. Although I made my point, or at least I believe I did, I was left with negative feelings.

I need to make something clear to you.

I know I’m a good swimmer. I haven’t hit the pool in some time & I probably won’t ever be able to call myself an Olympian (or Paralympian). Regardless, I’m a swimmer.

My father is an Eagle Scout & being his only child scouting was a nonnegotiable. A good portion of your camp day involves water safety also known as swim lessons (grouped with the help of the Red Cr0ss). My 2nd year of camp I was in the “swimmers” unit. The unit that got more pool time in order to put on a water show at the end of the session. It was pretty awesome being able to have such likeminded friends. Plus I really progressed as a swimmer

My next year at camp I chose a different unit & was actually pretty excited about it, until the first day of camp came around & all of my friends from my old unit were in another unit, together. I figured I’d get use to it & see them quite frequently, until I found out where our units were located.

The next day I asked to switch units. It was pretty obvious that I wanted to be with my friends. Everyone in the office knew it, including the camp nurse (a friend’s mom) who probably told everyone before I arrived with my request. However, “I want to be with ALL of my friends” does not count as a legitimate reason. So, I came up with another reason.

“The unit I’m in is so far from the flagpole”
(Which is considered the center of camp)

It wasn’t the most far-fetched reason. My unit was in the furthest possible location, from everything. A portion of camp is located on a mountain, which is where my unit was. It wasn’t that bad really. I had been to that unit location before, years before when I was younger than & not as able as I was making my case. But no one who could O.K. my unit switch knew that.

I used my disability to my advantage. I admit it. But it was one of those times when a girl just needs to pull out the heavy artillery.

I moved to my “new” unit the next day.

We weren’t “the swimmers” unit our second year together but we were very much the same unit, except that our assistant leader was now our leader, and we now had an overlook to our old unit location, and there were maybe 3 new girls.

Typically, each year someone attends camp they have the opportunity to take the swim test to move up to the next level. I was “still” at level 3 at the beginning of my third year (I had started at 2, like most). No one had approached me to test at the end of the previous year so I took matters into my own hands & asked to take the level 4 test.

I had even asked my friend, whose mom was the nurse, if she thought I could pass the test, since she was the best swimmer in camp (councilors, lifeguards & her own mother included). I knew I could pass the test, but assurance is always nice. I was so sure I would pass I threw my swim cap into the trash. I was getting that yellow cap.

The next day I jumped in the pool with the level 4 group. Something just didn’t feel right to me, but I gave it my all hoping what I was feeling didn’t show.

It turned out the night before they changed the chemicals they used to treat the pool and I had a small leak in my goggles, which didn’t help matters.

I was handed a new white cap and told to go back to the level 3 group the next day; on top of an eye infection that developed the next day from the change in chlorine.

It felt like the first day of camp all over again, the day everyone gets checked for lice.

I didn’t understand it. I was ready. I was willing to work hard. Most importantly, I was able.

The only comfort I had in this situation, if you can call it that, was that my friends felt the same way. They knew I didn’t belong where I was. In fact they encouraged me to ask to take the test again at the end of camp, if I wasn’t offered the opportunity.

During the last days of camp, it was announced that there would be camp Olympics (since it was an Olympic year) and many events were to take place at the pool. The former “swimmers” unit was ready for it all.

Someone suggested I be on the relay team.

Me? The girl who less than 2 weeks before failed her swim test. Swim the relay?

I (unknowingly) achieved the dream for every special needs/disability parent out there.

”Her first year of swim team, I think she was an inspiration to her teammates. The past two years, though – and especially this year – I think she’s just another kid to most of them”

I agreed, and swam the first leg. I didn’t want to be the reason for our unit to lose. I’m also no idiot. Everyone knows swimming the anchor leg is an honor, one reserved for your best swimmer.

We weren’t the runaway winners at the “swimlympics” that year, but we put on a good fight when we needed to. I don’t even remember how we placed. What I do remember was that we had the best show of unit pride and teamwork at the pool.

I never officially “made” the swim team (or officially got that yellow cap) but the Pips girls were my team when I needed one.

(I still wish I could make that coach eat his words though)

*A similar version of this post was written on August 28, 2012

“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

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.

BADD ’17: In Defense Of The Able-Bodied

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but it’s one of those “tread lightly” things, and that’s not my best skill, so I’ve put it off, but I think today is the day.

I’ve written before on whether or not it’s possible for those with disabilities to be ableist towards others with disabilities. While it’s a divisive topic I think it’s an important one to acknowledge and discuss in certain situations.

As excited as I was to join a swim team I knew I wanted to continue when the season was over, which ended up not being in the cards for a few reasons. I also knew the season was really just a start and I needed to find the next step.

I asked people for advice, people who have been around and faced some of the same challenges, but I didn’t exactly go how I thought.

Before I even made a viable connection, people tried to talk me out of what I had in mind.

It didn’t make sense to me, if the end goal was to create a more inclusive environment what was so bad about my plan?

I showed up to my 1st masters swim practice with extreme caution. I wasn’t sure it was going to work, especially after watching the junior team practice, but I needed to give it a try. I had 1 private session with a coach a few months before and I was still reaping the benefits. If I backed out of a chance at team practices I would regret it.

It was a hard practice but everyone seemed welcoming. I’ve kept a list of goals since I started swimming again. I had been steadily chipped away at them but things stalled, until this practice. I ended up crossing off almost everything else on the list.

Then nearly everyone who encouraged me to seek out other opportunities tried to talk me out of it, even when I didn’t ask for their opinion.

It wasn’t good for me to leave people “who are like me” or “could understand someone like me,” at least according to them.

I understand their concern, at least usually, but what confused me was these comments were coming from people actively working towards more inclusive sports. So, why shouldn’t I join an able-bodied team? Especially if it’s a better fit, in almost every way.

I know there are those out there who feel that I’m betraying “my people” but if the ultimate goal is for people with disabilities to be seen as equals to the able-bodied community so we need to become part of the able-bodied community whenever an ideal situation presents itself.

At least that’s what I think.

I’m not going to say that the change has been seamless. It’s been full of adjustments, not so great practices, and at times downright culture shock.

But I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made the change.

And that’s made me think a lot more about inclusion.

When we see a chance for inclusion we should take it, we need to take it. It doesn’t always come with the betrayal of the disability community, and if we keep seeing it that way then we probably should change our approach.

Inclusion isn’t a one-sided issue, we can’t just stand around and wait for people to include us. We can’t just yell, and bitch, and moan about it either, there has to be some meaningful effort on our part, and it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture either.

Sometimes “just” showing up and seeing what could happen is enough.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2017

CP See, CP Do

“Breaststroke, drill, 6 count glide.”

My coach says at some point during practice, somewhere between warm up and the time when I wish I was in bed sleeping.

I love breaststroke, even though my stroke is 100% pull and 0% kick, so just hearing the word “Breaststroke” makes me happy (or slightly less unhappy depending on the previous set).

But hearing the words, “Breaststroke, drill, 6 count glide,” at this point makes me roll my eyes (thank goodness for darkened goggle lenses).

Although it’s my favorite stroke the drills are killer.

Why?

I have no back end to speak of, literally I’m working with half of what everyone else has at their disposal, especially in Breaststroke. I’m well aware of this, at this point almost everyone else is too, but that doesn’t get me out of doing drill work, and on the rare occasion it does I’ve at least tried the drill.

But this time is different. I know I’ve done this drill, my brain just can’t pull it up. So, I turn to my teammate, “It’s pull, 1-2-3-4-5-6, pull, 1-2-3-4-5-6, pull. Right?”

She puts her arms in front of her and does the drill using every verbal cue to match the visual cues. My teammates (and coach) also know I do better with visual cues and having verbal cues doesn’t hurt.

I stay behind as everyone else heads to the other side of the pool. I’m sure I know what I’m doing but I want to be really sure. I scan across the lanes and pick someone to watch.

“The goal isn’t to go fast. Make it clean,” my coach says standing behind me. This isn’t new either. Although I took up swimming a few years ago, drills are still new. My brain is used to stop or go, not maximize what you have to use less energy. She’s now used to giving me a single focus, spelling it out before I completely tire myself out trying to do what I think I’m supposed to be doing.

“Don’t go fast. Make it clean,” I say outload and scan across the lanes one more time before I push off.

Pull.

1-2-3-4-5-6.

Pull.

1-2-3-4-5-6.

Pull.

I’m saying everything in my head while I’m doing it. Keeping my neck long and straight with my head down all while my arms wobble erratically in an effort to keep my body balanced. My chest is starting to burn and I can feel my heart beating lightly in my ears. This doesn’t feel like what I see anyone else doing.

I forgot to breathe. When am I supposed to breathe? Oh, yeah. 5-6.

Pull, breathe.

1-2-3-4-5-6.

Pull, breathe.

It’s better but still awkward. Eventually, pretty much an eternity, later, I touch the wall.

“That was a really nice Butterfly pull at the beginning of that last one,” my teammate says with a smile on her face. She knows I messed up & I didn’t realize it. I didn’t do a Breaststroke pull until my 2nd pull.

I’m mad, but at myself. I can’t even do things I like right, never mind well.

I remind myself why I’m here & why I’ve stayed with this group. A few months ago, I would’ve finished out practice and kicked myself until the next day, at least, over it. Now I know no one really cares how I do the fact that I try to do it is enough.

I’m lucky that I’m with a group of people who care about how I do but help me keep my personal expectations in check. I want to do things perfectly the 1st time every time. No one can do that. When someone laughs, they aren’t always laughing at me, they’re trying to get me to laugh at myself, because they’ve been where I am.

I’ve even luckier that I have a group of people I can watch. I can see it before I do it rather than just thinking I know what I’m supposed to do. I have a good idea of who to watch depending on the stroke, distance, and/or drill, and it really does help.

I sometimes joke that my team is a motor planning think-tank because sometimes it’s how I can get the most out of practice.

  • See it.
  • Plan it.
  • Do it.
  • Make needed changes.

Life Without An Off Switch

There are a lot of analogies that can apply to what it’s like to live with Cerebral Palsy.

For a long time my muscles were like a phone dialing the wrong number.

Then I started telling people I was still working with dial up while they had Wi-Fi (thanks to John W. Quinn for that inspiration).

More recently I’ve referred to my muscles, or more accurately my nervous system, as not having an off switch.

All of these analogies can apply to my experience, and I tend to use them interchangeably. However, there are probably a few more that would apply too.

The only time all of my muscles are ever fully relaxed is during surgery, and possibly when I’m asleep but that’s a stretch.

There’s a sense of pride that comes along with being able to say that you’re “firing on all cylinders,” but there’s a downside to it that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should.

Always being “on” means it’s hard to get adequate rest, making you prone to injury (even weird ones) and making it harder to recover from injury.

There’s also the matter of fuel aka food.

If you use more energy you use more fuel to get that energy.

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I often joke with my teammates that although I don’t always swim the same distance they do I’m actually working at least twice as hard as they do, except I’m not always joking.

Asking my body to sprint is like asking a car to go from 0 to 60 with the parking brake on. I start off OK but I’m quickly left in the dust. Honestly if I can see the feet of someone in front of me than that’s a success, at least for me.

Is it frustrating? Sure. But I’ve made such a dramatic change in my training that I wouldn’t have even considered swimming with these people a year ago.

I’ve made so many changes in my life in the last year that being able to be within striking distance of someone else’s feet is really an accomplishment, if you’re looking at the bigger picture here.

Living without an “off switch” can be a challenge and it always seems to be a learning process but being able to put it in a context, for me that means within swimming, helps solidify it more than I ever thought possible.