Wednesday, 29 August 2012

"Are you in the paralympics" Take 2

I know I've just done a blog on this, but I had to blog today's experience, because it made my day.

First, this encounter was with a chap (Obi) manning a charity stall at the supermarket entrance. Compliments paid therefore have an element of 'persuade her to give money', but I like to think there was some sincerity in what he said.

It had been raining. I love being out after summer rain. I love the cool air, the sound my wheels make, the freshness of the world. And I had to buy stuff for dinner.

So I went in to town.

The carpark was wet, with a light spray being thrown up by my wheels as I sped across the smooth, flat, surface at 'cruising speed'. This means that I  engage my core muscles, lean forward and accelerate hard, building up a bit of momentum, then, still leaning strongly forward I maintain the speed with long, easy pushes, using my whole upper body and letting my hands swing forward before looping back at the end of each push.

It is a pushing style that I love - and one influenced by watching David Weir. And when rolling along like that I feel I could take the world on and win. I might only be able to maintain it over a short distance, but I feel like I'm flying - every muscle dances in time, perfectly in tune with the wheels, to let me move in a way that is indescribably powerful, free, and alive.

Anyway, I reached the supermarket and pulled my usual handbrake-turn to pick up a basket and slow to a more pedestrian pace.

"Excuse me, are you a paralympian?" asked a voice.

I looked up and saw him. Tall, and to be honest, rather handsome. I grinned.

"Seriously, are you an athlete?"

"No, I'm not".

First his face registered disappointment. "Oh, I was gonna ask for your autograph". Then embarrassment. "Sorry, I know....I mean....I've never seen a wheelchair user so full of energy....and you look so alive....and confident....and the way you were pushing....and....I thought....I thought that kind of slope-y out wheels....were...well...specialist sports ones..." Apparently I was inspirational too.

Oh. My. Word.

Talk about a compliment!

Nothing he said sounded like it came from pity or low expectations. He didn't see the wheels and think 'poor you'. He saw me. He saw life, joy, speed and confidence. And then he saw the wheels - and registered them not as an aid for a poor person who can't walk, but as a piece of sports kit. Which is fair enough given that it is technically an old basketball/sports chair with a 6degree camber.

Funnily enough I didn't mind him thinking I looked full of energy despite my seriously depleted energy supplies.

It is strange, but oddly uplifting, to think that my beloved 'cruising speed' brightened up the day for someone who had, by his own admission, never spoken to a wheelchair user before.

I rather like this 'being mistaken for a paralympian' lark. And perhaps, sometimes, I don't mind being inspirational either.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Are you in the Paralympics?

The current most commonly asked question by random strangers when they see me in my wheels.

Many other people with visible disabilities are finding the same. It has triggered much discussion in social media, but broadly speaking there seem 2 main attitudes towards this assumption that disability=paralympian. One of annoyance, and one of pleased-ness.

So, from what I understand and have read:

When you know how exhausted you get, your pain levels etc, then the paralympic comment feels a bit like a slap in the face. And seeing as part of you is probably a bit jealous and would love to train every day without hospitalising yourself - well, it just isn't a happy moment looked at like that.

And then there's the fear that people will only see your value if you are a paralympian. That to be sporty makes you socially acceptable. Perhaps an unattainable target for some. And the "if they think I am an athlete, they are totally going to overestimate my abilities, and I'm going to have to keep explaining my limitations over and over again, sounding feeble and emphasising my disability. Depressing."

It is like when you are feeling seriously rough and someone tells you you look fabulous. And you get the urge to hit them on the head yelling "I feel hideous, and I will make you feel equally bad so you understand!!". Only bigger.

To be mistaken for an elite athlete....well....there has to be an assumption on their part that you are talented, fit, awesome and generally to be looked-up-to. Ok, so you might know you only just managed to drag yourself out of the house for the 1st time in weeks, and feel hideous, but hey, people looking at you have positive sterotype - and aren't all pitying.

It beats the second most common assumption which is that a wheelchair user is helpless and feeble.

And perhaps sometimes it isn't really a serious "I actually think you are a paralympian" more a conversation starter and something to break the ice. In which case I find it preferable to "it must be so hard for you having to use that." 

And it is certainly an indicator that people are starting to recognise that disability isn't all doom and gloom, but contains definite potential for Gold.

Personally: (and therefore you don't have to agree)
I think I have both reactions within me. 

That means I can choose which I act on - which I feed, and encourage to grow stronger.

I've decided to choose the Pleased-ness.

And from a place of pleased/complimented I can let them know that actually, I'm an author, or I'm just shopping, or doing physio. And perhaps a short conversation will ensue, which leads to them being that bit more comfortable with and understanding of disability in general.

Because experience tells me that it is much easier to help someone see disability as OK, and part of normal when I feel positive than when I feel offended.

And I like being complimented. So I will assume, from now on, that anyone who asks me if I am training for/in the paralympics, is really saying that they recognise that I am a valuable member of society.

True, they might have actually mean't "If you aren't an athlete then you have no value", but if I've just responded with polite cheerfullness, showing positivity and that I am an intelligent person who contributes to society, the chances are they'll go away with something to think about and maybe change their perspective. They are hardly going to say "Actually I meant that you are worthless cos you don't do sport." - And if they do? - I'll pity their blinkered prejudice which must limit them in far more ways than a set of wheels, and move on. Leaving their problem with them.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Shopping for new wheels.

On Wednesday I went wheelchair shopping at GBL wheelchairs with Emma. I need a new chair - my current one is, amongst other things, too small and not suited to toe propelling.

My local NHS PCT cannot supply one light enough for me to push, so I have a voucher and am off to find a chair that works for me. Rigid framed chairs with swing away footplates are not easy to find!

So I spent a few hours at GBL wheelchairs. I wasn't playing. Honest!

  So, I need a light set of wheels, but my budget isn't that big.

A more realistic prospect is the Panthera S2. The swing away footplate, light weight, rigid ticks all the essential boxes. And wheeling round both by toe and standard propelling was fun (although I'd have mine set up a lot more 'tippy').

We established that I wouldn't need the full 'swing away' footplates, just 'flip up' - cos they don't get in the way when I transfer. As the salesman commented, I can transfer without problem. Although he appeared a little bemused by my reply.
I could have spent hours in there. It's SO useful to actually see and try out the various adaptations and styles of chair. I found out about pushrims in different grip shapes, and with different coating, and fell in love with the 'dual grip' which means you have the option of using grippy area to push- especially in the rain, then the smooth area to steer/brake/control on hills. 

I was immensely amused to find that Emma, a wheelchair user since childhood, had never discovered the different shaped pushrim tubes. I think she felt a little cheated.

Testing out all these in a small warehouse may possible have made me over-heat....

Overall, the Panthera S2 is definitely in the running as a possible choice, but it doesn't look as sporty as the Kuschal K4 - which I am waiting for further info re the 'swing away footplate' version. And since I'm spending well over £1K of my own money, I want something that looks sporty. I just do.

So I haven't made my choice yet. Not least because I was excessively exhausted afterwards, so a quick nap in my car boot before the journey home accidentally happened.

Which was extremely comfortable, and now it has been discovered I intend to use it a lot more.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Olympic to Paralympic

(Note: this is my opinion and approach. You are welcome to your own.)

I watched the Olympics.

I loved the Olympics.

 They made me laugh, they made me cry.

They made me want to hug random strangers.

The dedication, skill, perseverance, talent and courage of the athletes was simply awesome. The achievements were immense - whether medals were involved or not.

And now I look forward to the Paralympics.
I can't wait. Each advert I see makes me will the opening ceremony closer.

There are loads of political arguments around about whether they should be merged, happen one after the other, should paralympic athletes compete in the Olympics aswell...

My opinion? I'm sure there are pro's and con's to every argument. I haven't followed the debates or given it much thought, because.......THE PARALYMPICS ARE NEARLY HERE!!

I - and I suspect the entire nation - will see and love the same dedication, skill, perseverance, talent and courage of the athletes. And once again the country will buzz with excitement as the games unfold.

I don't have energy to spend arguing semantics or political slants, I don't want to sit there wondering whether I should use the term 'disabled' or not, trying to guess how able bodied people, or the government, or DWP will view the events, stressing over that fact that some people will react negatively to the games (after all, with millions watching, there will always be someone who reacts in  a way that annoys me). Politics can wait.

What I want is to watch David Weir and Hannah Cockroft - yelling them onwards from my living room. (Plus a rapidly growing list of GB athletes as learn more about them) I want to see the INCREDIBLE skill of the visually impaired long-jump-athletes (saw it at the disability athletics grand prix in May. Loved it.) I want to laugh, cry, shout, hold my breath and punch the air in jubilation. I want to celebrate more fantastic athletes.

So please don't send me equality/disability arguments - I just want to watch these fabulous sportspeople show the world their skills.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

He got it right.

Today I was in town. There is a pedestrianised section of shops. Smoothish brick paved (good), but on a fairly steep slope (not so good).

I am hugely proud of myself and the hard work I have put into my fitness level, strength and joint control - meaning I am now able to wheel myself at speed up the full length of the slope and visit all/any shops I choose.

Today I was wheeling up the slope and I overtook an 8yr old boy with his Dad.

Boy: "I didn't know wheelchairs could go up here."
Dad: "It's a flat surface which is good for wheelchairs."
Boy: "But it isn't flat."
Dad: "It's quite smooth. But yes, you'd have to be fit to get up here."

He got it right.