Boom! Crash! Bang! - went the fireworks at the opening day of the 2012 Olympics in London - signifying the beginning of competitive games where countries press forth their most able bodied athletes to achieve greatness in their name. So, fair enough - as the world’s hungry watch 10 years worth of food blow up in the night sky to mark the games - it does indeed inspire millions of people, which is wonderful. I am an American - born and bred in the State of Vermont - the Green Mountain State, which is like a big town in New York, but close enough to Boston I can see it on a clear day if I‘m high up enough. However, just because I am American doesn’t mean I root just for my own countrymen and women - I’ll root anyone on if I feel they deserve it and have a heart that weighs more than gold. But, unlike the media frenzy that concentrates on gold gold GOLD during the Olympics, there is something else I am far far FAR more interested in. The Paralympic Games. Folks, this IS the Olympics still - and I am going to let you in on a little secret that NBC hasn’t figured out - it is far more interesting, more challenging and chock full of really amazing competition. I first became more aware of the Paralympics after watching them when the Olympics were held in Atlanta, GA and my country was in a tizzy over our hosting. In all the games since - the events I’ve been personally more interested in have usually been dominated by Australians - like Lyn Lepore in the Sydney 2000 games in road cycling, which is a personal favorite of mine. In addition to the Paralympics, I was further inspired with admiration for individual disabilities after discovering the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah - who as a young man with a severe disability, rode his bicycle across his country of Ghana to raise awareness to the plight and prejudices of the disabled
in his land. He is an absolutely amazing man - and I would highly recommend watching the documentary on his awareness work entitled Emmanuel's Gift. He still gives back to this day.
Now, most people know that in the world of sports and physical achievement, there is no greater honor then for a person to be chosen for competition in the Olympics. Like any word can sometimes illicit a prejudice, the terms ‘Olympian’ and ‘Olympiad’ usually conjure up images of great physical prowess and skill. Those words are accurate descriptors in our mental image of just what prowess and skill is and how mere armchair competitors view it. I remember a number of years ago when I learned I was distantly related (like so distant, I would need binoculars) to former Olympian Albert Gutterson, who won a gold medal 100 years ago for broad jump during the Olympics of 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden.
I looked at his picture from those days – so young and full of life, and it reminded me of greatness - although...it would have been nice if his name was Scott, or Alex, or Max etc.....lol (kidding). When I see the family homestead nearby, I can’t help but be fascinated an Olympian grew up there. Now, I am not one to get emotional over photos of persons I’ve never met; however, this was different; he was an “Olympian” – it made me feel proud. Why did his existence and Olympic accomplishment make me proud? Simple. Anyone can live a life of work and weekend play - and merely contribute the bare minimums to the betterment of this world, which pretty much sums up most of my long deceased relatives lives - but an Olympian? It takes a special and unique person to qualify as an Olympian – no question about it.
Now, let us peer behind door # 2 to examine another word(s) that can conjure a prejudice; “challenged” or “disabled.” I imagine that when one hears these words, the prejudice that comes to mind is someone who does not have the same range of motion that perhaps an ‘Olympian’ possesses. So, for discussion sake, what then happens when these two descriptions/prejudices above collide? That is to say, a person who has challenges yet is also an Olympian? I’ll tell you what happens; amazing things. It is true unadulterated amazement that any individual can be so strong physically AND mentally so as to transform themselves out of a debilitating challenge and then use their bodies in such ways that most ‘able-bodied’ persons couldn’t even think of. To me, a person who has physical challenges is far stronger than those who do not. When one isn’t challenged in life, they become weak and complacent. An individual who is challenged, is always honing their skills and goals in life. I personally have a quandary with the word disabled or disability. The word, which accurately describes a condition in a sensible non-offensive way, it does to me denote a certain unavoidable stigma; I just dislike it. I rather see a person for who they are as an individual, rather than resort to labels.
So as to make my point, lets stick with Australia and let us now look behind door #3, in which I will use as an excellent example - we will find Brydee Moore. Brydee is a long time competitor in the world of sports. Brydee has been competing in sports since 2001; I think it’s safe to say that sports and competition are her life. In 2006, Brydee’s goals of competitive discus throw and shot put received a serious bump up the big time scale, when she competed in the 2006 FESPIC Games earning herself two gold medals and later, during the 2008 National Championships in Beijing earning three gold medals while representing her native country of Australia.
Brydee has 16 gold medals at the National Championships to her credit, including her latest haul of three gold at the 2012 Nationals. She holds the Australian records in her classification for all three of her throwing disciplines and her shot put length of 6.47m is not far away from achieving the world record. And it doesn’t stop there, Brydee continues on her path of competitive sportsmanship to this day, having competed at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and now, acceptance for a second time into the Paralympic Games at London 2012. That’s right, Brydee is an Olympian.
But what makes Ms. Moore so inspiring in her skills, is that not only is she an Olympian, she also has some physical challenges in her life. Prior to my stating this, you probably conjured up an image of a toned glistening woman flying over hurdles on the field in full Olympic regalia – royal horns bellowing and crowds in full cheer. And, consequently, now that I’ve thrown the words ‘disability or challenges’ into the mix, your imagination may have been playing a few tricks in the mental imagery department. Trust me on this - there are no tricks here; there is serious tonage and glistening going on. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 11 months old, it would seem clear that Ms. Moore has not always had an easy road to travel upon - and that is for certain. But – this hasn’t slowed herself down a bit – she is out there in this big world showing it what she can do and inspiring so many thousands of people as well as many who may have similar worries/challenges as herself. I liken it to this comparison: while many of us cruise through life complaining about the need to inject Botox into our glistening non challenged BMW bodies, Brydee has souped up her Holden Commodore….and the BMW is afraid. Very afraid. So while us BMW’s sit in the garage resting on its laurels and name brand reputation, Brydee the Commodore is wrenching a turbo and dual exhaust to her Mad Max engine. Physically challenged? Disability? Just words…..mere sounds one makes with their tongues – and in the case of Brydee Moore, actions speak louder than words. Brydee has a personal motto; “see the athlete, not the disability.” And for the record, I would rather arrive at a party in a Mad Max car than a BMW - far more attractive, superior performance and way less maintenance costs.
Now, for the U.S. Paralympic team - as I edit this blog, I just learned in the town right next to me, is a U.S. Olympian who will be competing in the London Paralympic Games; Alicia Brelsford Dana, from Putney, VT. I couldn't believe it when I read this in the paper - that a stone's throw away is a hand cycling olympian. Amazing! Here is a link to the article, which explains it best: http://www.reformer.com/localnews/ci_21259962/racing-london-putney-woman-rides-wave-support-paralympics
What is really amazing, is I've seen her before naturally - I practically live next door - and while I have admired her strength as I lazily drove by in my car, I never imagined this person would be competing in the Olympics. Paralyzed from the waist down after suffering a fall, this single mother seemingly juggles it all - and still had the fortitude to qualify for the paralympics, so now I'm even more thrilled to see what happens during these games. No matter what her outcome may be, I am proud and thrilled for her. No matter what the color of a medal is, whether gold, silver, bronze or empty handed, I still think it's amazing to even qualify for the Olympic games; every Olympian is a win. Naturally, I immediately sent her a friend request on facebook so I could inundate her with daily posts of my fandom; she is going to be SO sorry if she accepts it!
I love the Paralympics. And the reason I enjoy them isn’t because of some noble thought that I *should* watch them, but more because any person who has a disability and can do something better than someone who doesn’t have a disability, is a true Olympian. I have mixed emotions about the term Paralympics, but – I suppose it is really semantics. I have entered numerous bicycle races in my life, and if I may brag - earned bronze on three occasions in the U.S. national championships in the late 90's for obtacle course, slalom and a distance road race. I have also run a few piddly fiddly 5k’s in my time, and on such occasions, there have been persons who have also entered who must use a different vehicle to meet their specific bodily needs – i.e. a wheelchair. Each time I have been intimidated – because I know…this guy or gal is going to make mince meat out of me. I know this to be true not because their bodies are toned with the obvious effects of practice, but because I know mentally they are absolutely committed to DESTROYING me. And, barring some mechanical failure on equipment, they always do.
Cody McCasland, 8, from Colleyville, TX, shown here in the Ranger Triathalon. Cody is a double above knee amputee born with a rare birth defect called Sacral Agenesis that caused his legs to form both missing tibias and knees. Doctors, in his best interest, amputated his legs at 15 months old, and Cody has never stopped challenging himself physically. He raced the 100m swim, 2.2 mile bike ride, and 800, run in under thirty minutes. Future Olympian? I hope so!
I am a man of perfect motion. I can walk, run, roll, cartwheel and roll out of bed in no time flat – and admittedly take this ability for complete granted. If I am in a stadium and feel the need to visit the restroom, I can run to the bathroom with the best of them – and be in and out in no time flat. I do not know what it is like to limp, or have no feeling in any part of my body, or to know what it is like to live with the daily challenges one faces who does have such things to bear. I have had, however, a brain injury - which is occasionally recurring with intracranial pressure, after having been smacked upside the head repeatedly by a complete nutcase I was trying to arrest several years ago - and have spent my fair share of time in the CT-Scan torpedo tubes, from constant headaches to continual swishing noises in my left ear. But anyways - it is nothing compared to what others suffer. But back to physical prowess......I have lifted a discus and a shot put – and they are heavy. To throw a discus and a shot put for far range and in control takes practice and skill. I thus have tried throwing a discus and a shot put. I admit, I thought it would be easy – I mean, it’s just throwing an object right? I grappled my hands around its cold steel and instantly felt awkward, unable to comprehend how one can really hold onto something so odd shaped and heavy, and throw it at a controlled distance; much like a Frisbee on a windy day. I wound up, took a deep breath, and with one felt swoop – exhaled a small scream and threw the discus – imagining in my mind where it would it land….that being approximately two miles away ala Clark Kent kicking that Football from the original Superman movie. I think it landed about 5 feet away and like a bad golfing slice about an equal distance to the right of where I expected it to land. I tried again. And again. And again – each time gaining the same result. I came to a conclusion after GIVING UP, that, indeed – throwing a discus and even more so the shot put…takes skill and obvious practice. I’ve never thrown one sitting down – but as I sit here in my chair and pretend, I know it is extremely difficult. When I was a kid, I wasn’t particularly fond of running, despite my (at the time) built for speed body, so I thought perhaps being good at discus and shot put would be good, but alas – nope….I then just stuck to my bike. All people are good at something – and when they find out what it is, there are no limitations to hold them back; not even a disability - as proven by the athletes in the Paralympics.
I am quite familiar with Cerebral Palsy and it’s oft time frustrating effects; I know many people who live with it, and likewise, I have my own personal familial issues with this and other afflictions that affect the mind and body. I have witnessed the occasional and understandable decline of the human spirit when such challenges exist and when it seems life is a constant struggle. I’ve seen the frustration, the teasing and all the other stuff that goes along with a life of challenges. The hopes and dreams we all share, can sometimes be compounded for persons who have disabilities. I’ve always been an advocate for such individuals; I’ll never stop with that – and for the most part, my reason for having even become a police officer was an inherent desire to become a more prominent advocate in the battle to end the chronic finger pointing, senseless prejudices and abuse. I remember my Aunt Jean Lemire and my cousins Robbie and Kenny Blake, who had so many debilitating challenges in their lives. Wanting so badly to ‘fit in’ – to find and experience the things all human beings yearn for: to find that love of their life, to have a family, to drive a car, to experience a first kiss, to own a home, to run, to jump, to escape…if only for a moment. It crushes MY spirit just thinking about them, now gone, and it hurts to know how they felt so much of the time.
As the Paralympics start to gear up – I urge people to take an active interest in this serious world of competition; you’ll be amazed. I also would urge people to reach in their pockets every now and then and throw a couple of bucks toward organizations that provide assistance on so many levels to individuals who face life at times with a constant head wind. Give up one pack of cigs a month – after all, it won’t kill you, it will help you – it’s a win win! If you know of families who have equipment needs for small children who want to compete in sports by all means lend that hand and donate. There is no greater calling.
So, from August 29, 2012 to September 9, 2012, the Paralympic Games will be in full swing. On August 31, 2012, give a cheer to Brydee as she enters the arena for discus while representing Australia and my new best fanned neighbor Alicia Brelsford Dana as she handcycles her way into history representing the United States - the only paralympic athlete from Vermont. I suppose I am supposed to cheer for the USA - and I most certainly will, especially Ms. Breslford Dana; however, since my new/last Chevrolet Caprice police car was made in Australia – and is the sickest most insanely fast cruiser I’ve ever had, I will also have to make an exception here and root for the land down under as well. Actually - I root for everyone; geographical boundaries really don't mean much to me.
Above: My Australian made for USA cop car. Took so long to get here it was a "year" old by the time I rolled out of the fleet garage with it. It is a Chevy Caprice, but - so I've been told, is called a Holden in Australia.
Root for your favorite team and event - I know I will be – because I’m a fan – and I bow to the greatness of all Olympians, whether they walk into an arena or arrive on wheels. The truth is, we all have challenges – some are just more visible than others. From my cab to yours – enjoy - and please check these links to learn more about Cerebral Palsy - as well as a wonderful video series by Charisse and her journey with Cerebral Palsy - it is her hope to further awareness of it and break people from having an uneducated and otherwise uninformed conclusion of just what exactly it is. She encourages people to cut/paste her link to learn more - she is just such an inspiration - I promise you will be hitting subscribe faster than Ms. Brelsford Dana can ride her bike - well, pretty close anyways.
This section of the site is not specific to my taxi travels. They are not really rants either. It is more of a space for me to simply raise awareness to topics that either inspire or frustrate me as an individual.