It was late winter or early spring of 2015. My family brought me to some place where the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) was going to discuss adaptive sports with me… Such as wheelchair track.
They brought out a bunch of racing chairs and had me try one out. With assistance, I got in it, and in this first chair, I sat on a little seat with my legs out in front of me. A pair of thick, black glove-like things—which loosely resembled a pair of small boxing gloves—were taken out, and they helped me slip them on my hands before instructing me to lean forward and showing me how to push the chair. I found this first chair uncomfortable and awkward; it was difficult to lean forwards and push when I was in that seated position, and the pain in my legs and back immediately increased, so they helped me switch to a different type of racing chair. This one was red and yellow in color, and it was designed so that my legs were folded underneath me instead of being in front of me.
I immediately liked this design better; it felt significantly more comfortable. One of the GLASA coaches then brought me into the hallways and helped me practice pushing the chair.
When I gave it a push, it glided across the linoleum, and I was delighted.
“I like this!” I exclaimed to the lady and my mom. The speed was fun and exciting, and the concept was new and intriguing.
Maybe my situation doesn’t suck so much, after all, I thought.
Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long. The thing is, I had way too many expectations going into it. I was trying to replace running. I pushed the thought of running, the grief of losing it, way back in my mind and covered it up with the thought of wheelchair racing. I continuously told myself that it was close enough, that I enjoyed it and it was good enough, and maybe I would grow to be just as enamored with wheelchair racing as I was with running.But I was wrong. I was lying to myself. I went to practices a few times a week and I competed in a few meets. I got a few medals at some of the high school meets, but I despised them because I knew they were pity medals…. I was always either in last place or the only one racing. I made it to state, too, but again, it didn’t feel like a real accomplishment considering the top 2 in each race got to go, and I was always either racing against myself or one other girl.The GLASA meets and practices were definitely better than the high school ones. Practices were significantly less repetitive and it was nice to practice with and race against a lot of other people. I even did a relay at regionals, and though my group ultimately got disqualified since we weren’t completely sure of how it worked, it was a great experience, nonetheless.
At regionals, I made it to NJDC (the National Junior Disability Championships), and though I didn’t end up being able to attend, that did feel like a real accomplishment, unlike making it to State or “winning” those pity medals.
Wheelchair track brought some amazing memories, and I don’t regret trying it. But I dreaded going to practices and meets. My arms hurt after pushing for just a few minutes, and not in the good, muscle soreness way that I actually kind of love. No, it was my nerve pain. It flared up and every push was incredibly painful, and that, in addition to increasing my fatigue, left me basically bed-bound for at least a day after each practice or meet.
And, more importantly, I wasn’t “good” at it. At all. Of all of the people I raced against, I was the only one with significant weakness and partial paralysis in my arms (from what I could tell, anyway). I was almost always in last place out of those I raced against. But I was also always told that I was technically in first place, only because I never raced against anybody with the same classification.
See, when it came to wheelchair track, I was just terrible. I didn’t really “fit in” with the other racers because I was terrible. Maybe that would’ve been different, had I gone to NJDC, because maybe there would’ve been other people in my class. Maybe I would’ve built up more strength and gotten better eventually. But I’ll never know that, and ultimately, I felt defeated. Ultimately, I just ended up missing running more than ever. I was watching my Cross Country and Track friends improving more and more, experiencing things that I’d dreamed of as a freshman and sophomore. They were surpassing me; I was left behind in the dust kicked up by their spikes, watching their legs take them further and further away from me. I was in last place, both physically and metaphorically.
I didn’t discover my love for running until 6th grade, and then I got 2 wonderful years of track, 5k races, and cross country before it was snatched away from me. So I took it back, and I got almost 3 more years of it… but then it was taken away again. A second time. And I just so desperately wanted for things to be okay. I wanted to be able to embrace the wheelchair and crutches, to become an amazing wheelchair racer. I wanted to be able to be okay with not running, because it’s too annoyingly pitiful to not be. I wanted my life to be a story of hope and perseverance rather than one that’s just… Sad. Dramatic. Real.It’s easier for everyone to pretend that this type of thing is okay. It’s easier for everyone to pretend that the thing you love most can be easily replaced if you have to lose it. Sometimes, I feel like it’s easier for able-bodied people to see our newfound happiness, to believe that we’re always “strong,” happy, and grateful, that we never grieve the things we lost because there’s nothing to grieve.
Maybe I should be able to just persevere and learn to be completely happy with these newly discovered sports. Maybe I should be one of those people who greatly succeeds in an adaptive sport and is grateful that TM ruined my arms and legs, because it allowed me to discover that new sport. But, the truth is? This really isn’t the case (so far, anyway). It kind of sucks sometimes. And I know I’m not alone in that. My life isn’t some inspirational movie or book; it’s just life. It’s filled with hard stuff, much life everyone else’s life, and I do grieve running (and other things) all the time.
But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy other things. As far as sports go, I can swim. Thanks to GLASA, I’ve discovered swimming, and I’ve found that I love it– far more than wheelchair track. I try not to compare it to running, because there’s really no comparison. Swimming is its own, separate thing, and I’ve found that it’s more enjoyable when I treat it that way. It’s not running. Not at all. It hasn’t replaced running as “my” sport; instead, it’s simply an addition. My heart is big enough for the two of them (that sentence was painfully cliché, but you know what I mean).The thing is, in general I actually am okay with everything that has happened to me. I’ve said before that I’m grateful that TM has had a huge impact on who I am and has given me so many friends, hobbies, etc. that I may not have otherwise had. I wasn’t lying about that; I still believe that that’s true. I just know that, no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to replace running, and therefore, it’ll forever be something I desperately miss. And that’s okay.