You Don’t Have to Wear Shinpads on Titanium Legs
This past week, a very good friend of mine, who also happens to be president of our congregation, gave a fund raising speech to the assembled congregation. Coincidentally, it came about the same time I’d been ruminating about the recent Olympic summer games in London and, more to the point, the Paralympic Games that followed.
I recently took my son, to a hockey game between the Wounded Warriors and the Lawmakers. Before the main event, there was an exhibition game between two sled teams. A sled is a contraption with skates with which amputees maneuver on the ice as they propel themselves with the bottom part of two hockey sticks. These guys played as enthusiastically as anyone I have ever seen. My father would have been in awe of the skaters who played as hard – and as dirty – as he ever did. From their sleds. The engineer in him would have wondered aloud how the remarkable vehicles worked. And he would have LOVED the t-shirts we saw that read “Wounded Warrior – some assembly required.”
“The people on that ice displayed joy, athleticism, determination and optimism. Some had no visible evidence of a lower torso, others were lucky enough to have – or maybe, in this case, were impeded by – one leg projecting to the front of the sled. It was an image I will never forget. Regardless of how you feel about the reason for their sacrifice, you could not help but be inspired to see how these players managed to really live despite it.
I thought about what it took to make it possible for this game to happen:
- The miracle of an improved infrastructure
- The support of a remarkable community
- People finding their passion.
Think for a moment about those remarkable athletes – the tragedy they initially endured that led to their becoming Wounded Warriors, but also the obvious suffering not only through their rehabilitation, but the training to get them onto the ice. Theirs was not an easy path, although these athletes approached it all with the grit you might expect – and the necessary sense of humor. One of the athletes was overheard saying, “You don’t have to wear shin pads on titanium legs.”
They had the miracle of an improved governmental and societal infrastructure. In the close-knit support group of military, family, and friends, they’d also found the support of a remarkable community. And, obviously, they’d found their passion.
In a recent Metro Run & Walk newsletter I wrote of the amazing story of double leg amputee Oscar Pistorius’ bid to become the first “disabled” athlete to compete on equal terms in the same venue with “able bodied” athletes. In the first round of the men’s 4X400 meter relay, the South African team was eliminated when their second leg runner was tripped by an athlete from Kenya. The South Africans protested, and the IOC granted them an exception, creating an extra slot in the finals and allowing the team, including Pistorius, to compete. Although they finished in 8th place, the team nevertheless posted their best time for the season with Pistorius running the anchor leg!
Pistorius also went on to compete in the individual 400, struggling valiantly but ultimately finishing last in his semi-final. It was a superb effort for him though, and, as sports writer Paul Kelso, of The London Telegraph, put it most eloquently,
“The South African was eliminated from the 400m, finishing last in his semi-final, but his presence was always likely to be more significant than his achievements on the track.
Pistorius secured his place in sporting history by becoming the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics. He will be back in a few weeks to add to his haul of Paralympic titles, but the impact of the 95 seconds or so he spent in competitive action will reverberate longer in the sport than anything he achieves next month.
Pistorius fought for the right to compete against able-bodied athletes, pursuing the IAAF to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after it ruled that his blades offered an advantage over able-bodied rivals.
The notion that a man without legs could have an edge over his able-bodied rivals seems like an affront to common sense, but Pistorius challenges preconceptions on many levels.
He has long been accepted by his rivals. Kirani James of Grenada, the reigning world 400m champion who finished first ahead of Pistorius, demonstrated his respect for the South African by making a point of swapping numbers with him after the race.
I’m sure many of you knew of Pistorius’ efforts at the Olympics, but how many of you know *any* of the results of the 2012 Paralympic games? Specifically, how many of you know how the duel I wrote about several issues ago between Pistorius and US Paralympian runner (and NASA scientist) Jerome Singleton played out? Unless you had a keen interest in this story or the Paralympics in general and followed the competition over the Internet or the unbelievably spotty television highlights, you probably don’t have a clue, because the coverage of the Paralympic games here in the US was, sadly, virtually non-existent. I won’t tell you how the race turned out – you can watch it for yourself at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTxypZ71-30. It’s absolutely amazing.
Returning to my friend’s thoughts, where is the “support from a remarkable community” for these athletes – for the athletes of the Wounded Warriors, the Paralympics, and, closer to home, the Special Olympics? I urge you all to search your heart and soul and find it within yourself to find a way to support these groups. You can check them all out at: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/, http://www.paralympic.org/, and http://www.specialolympics.org/.
Finally – my customary appeal for you to support your local high school’s athletic programs. The current season’s sports include cross country (my favorite), field hockey, volleyball, golf, and football. It doesn’t get much better, and those young athletes would love to see you in the stands as members of *their* remarkable community.
Fall’s here – can I light a fire in the fireplace yet?
Senior Staff Member, Metro Run & Walk