I have yet to meet a person without some sort of “issue.” Everyone has something that may be considered abnormal. There are things that cause some people anxiety that do not bother most others. Crowds, tight spaces, spiders, flying, or water are all examples of this. But to just look at these people, you would most likely never know. However, when someone has a physical “issue,” most of the time, you can see it right when you meet them.
I was watching a show last week about a couple who are little people. They have kids, one of whom is also a little person. He is married to a woman of regular height and they are about to have a child of their own. They just discovered that their child will also be a little person. As the young man spoke to his dad about this, he mentioned having to teach his new son about the trials of being a little person. His dad’s response was along the lines of physical issues the child may have to endure. But this is not what the new dad meant. He began talking about the psychological and emotional issues that get hidden deep inside. For him, it was not being able to keep up with his brothers when playing soccer or not being able to climb a tree as fast as his brothers or friends. While he was able to play soccer and was able to climb trees, others were much faster and it bothered him knowing that he would never be able to keep up.
I was born with one hand. My dad tried very hard to make me feel like everyone else. I tell people who ask if I miss having a hand, “I never had a hand so this is what is normal to me. I cannot miss something I never had.” To me, it was never if I could or could not do something, it was always trying to prove to everyone else that I could. I remember my first flag football team. The coach saw me walk up and immediately put me on the line. Remember, my dad tried to make me feel like everyone else. That means when we went out to play football or baseball or whatever, he treated me just like my brothers. I learned to catch the football and was pretty damn good at it. So, this coach sees me and never even gives me a chance to show him that I can play other positions. Everyone else got that chance, I was just automatically pigeon-holed, “He has one hand, he can’t catch.” This was my first experience with that kind of thing but it definitely was not my last and I am sure I will continue to experience this for the rest of my life.
I went on to play 17 years of rugby. If you know rugby, you know that everyone catches and carries the ball in just about every game. My position was one that had me handling the ball more than some but still less than others. I have discovered that there is a way for me to do just about anything anyone else can. Some things take a little ingenuity to make it work but my thinking is, “I will find a way.”
The point of all of this is to bring to light that people with physical disabilities usually do not consider themselves as disabled. It is to let those without physical issues understand that those with them are struggling with the reality that they do not have the same thing most others do but they still can do the same things. It is to let those with these issues know you can do that!
There is a way to lift weights. There is a way to play sports. There is a way! I would love for this post to be specific to each physical issue and help each person in one post, but it’s not possible. However, teachers, trainers, coaches, parents, and friends can all help dispel the myth that someone with a disability cannot do the same things.
My college rugby coach never saw me as a player with one hand. He saw me
as a player. Just as he saw the guy who struggled with grades as a player. Or the guy who was claustrophobic as a player. Or the really small kid as a player. He treated me like any other player on the team and discovered that the position I played in high school was not a great fit and moved me into a new position that allowed me to use my speed a little bit more.
This is what everyone can do for everyone! Do not treat a person with something you can see any differently than the person with something you cannot see. If one-handed guy wants to learn to play football, teach him. If she wants to learn baseball, teach her. If the guy who has never skated wants to play hockey, teach him. If the short girl wants to play basketball, teach her. Help them gain the skills needed to play or do what they want to do. There will come a point where each person will decide they can or cannot do something. It is not up to anyone else to make that determination.
Each person who has a physical issue knows that you can see it and believes that you are making some sort of judgement on it. This is not because they are paranoid, it’s because of experience. They already know that they cannot climb a tree as fast as others. They already know that to learn to catch a football it’s going to take a little more time. What they want is to believe that you believe in them.
To those with a physical issue: where there is a will there is a way. Don’t worry about “keeping up.” Worry about being better! ¡Si, se puede!