RUNNING BLIND

guilhermina guide 3

Super-star athletes are polishing their personas with the advent of the Summer Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.  One of them, Jamaican mega-medal winner Usain Bolt, has the gracefulness of a natural athlete. With his perpetual smile and generally good nature, Bolt is no pushover.

One doesn’t get the impression that Usain Bolt would promote something disagreeable.

Despite his gifts, or maybe because of them, Bolt also demonstrates a remarkably generous spirit, e.g., his 2012 embrace of double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, who competed against Bolt.

At a recent promo event, Bolt paired with Brazilian Paralympic multi-medalist Terezinha Guilhermina as her guide runner. Vision-impaired para-athletes compete under strict guidelines that may include use of sighted guide runners. Guilhermina trains and competes with guide Guilherme Soares de Santana; tethered at the wrist, she runs blindfolded as they match each other in speed and timing.

This high-speed dance is like a successful relationship: Trust is essential.  Good communication is quick but subtle, successful only with lots of practice.  Even when a compatible partner is found — no easy task in itself — the tasks are twice as difficult, twice as demanding.

If you’ve ever run a playground race with one leg joined to another person’s you begin to understand how tough it is to run as one.

Even so, Bolt expressed concern that Guilhermina would fall over or be unable to run fast enough. Both fears were unfounded.

Like running in synch, when an able-bodied athlete joins with a para-athlete, one shadows the other. Both understand the effort, sacrifice, and ability that has brought them to the medal podium.  As in a good marriage, there is mutual admiration and respect; knowledge that the differences are not diminishments.

Now for the preachy part:  There are two separate and unequal worlds when it comes to sport.  Usain Bolt, personable as he is, sells because of his able-bodied ability, not his smile.  Paralympic athletes sell to the larger audience only when paired with Olympic athletes; it doesn’t matter that their talent, drive, focus, and commitment to excellence are the same.

“Blade runner” Arthur Pistorius got more ink because of his fall from grace than from his rise to it.

Societal disequity is an old story and not just one about disability. Overcoming innate human suspicion and dislike of what is different requires conscious and concerted effort.  The nudge may come from decades’ worth of disabled vets with their can-do mentality, greater numbers, and the societal bequeathing of a high moral ground.

Personally, I’ll take it any way I can get it:  If the result to being paired with an able-bodied celebrity is lasting inclusion and a broader definition of human value, then drop the red flag and let the sports begin.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose private practice focuses on couples, especially those whose relationship is complicated by invisible or visible disability.  Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for nearly 40 years and understands that athletes go beyond themselves to compete.  With two world-class cat nappers, Petey and Lucy, Kathe and husband David live in Colorado where she doesn’t ski.

Read more about their Couples Communication Workshops at www.BeingHeardNow.com.  While you’re at it, check out our newest site, www.CouplesWhoTalk.com.

INVISIBLE DISABILITY GOT YOU SIDELINED THIS WINTER?

Even if I walked away, I wouldn't be able to walk very far.

Even if I walked away, I wouldn’t be able to walk very far.

For those of us who are disabled, invisibly so, preparing for  weather that turns wintry follows a simple self-care rule:  stay inside.

As multiple sclerosis has progressed in me, simple tasks loom large.

Accumulation of simple tasks makes negotiating my environment literally hazardous to my health.

And I’m not alone in what can happen:

Impaired mobility.   “Give me something to hold onto, like a railing, or a walker,” I said confidently, “and I’m good to go.”  This from a woman who managed the unbelievable – falling down and taking the shopping cart with her.  Not just with her, on top of her.  The same woman who stepped off a sidewalk and fell face-first on her rollator into Chicago traffic.

Adding ice, snow or both increases  the danger, whether I want it to or not.  Cold temperatures stiffen already-Frankenstein-like limbs, reduce feeling, and can even shut down body functions altogether.  For me, any extreme of temperature, hot or cold, and I look and act like a zombie.

Impaired senses and abilities. When it’s cold, the body’s heat is centralized to protect the core.  Extremities function poorly, if at all.  Try counting change at the grocery store, or picking up something you dropped.  Even bending over is dicey and can result in a tumble.  Even worse?  Getting up again.

People with breathing difficulties may struggle, even with little or no exertion.  Arthritis sufferers are crippled all the more.  And the head-injured’s thought processes slow. way. down.

Anything already stressed responds negatively to even more stress.  Think of the knees of someone overweight:  when chubby becomes obese, knees already weakened break down when more weight is added.

Of course not everyone will have such a dramatic response to arctic-like conditions, but some will.   For me, balance and strength, ability to write, well-being and fatigue, mood, motor skills, bladder control, cognitive functions, like word finding, are some of what fall to unacceptable levels.

It’s just plain dangerous.   A wheelchair-bound client of mine was hit by a bus when the driver’s vision was impaired by a snowstorm – he didn’t see her crossing in front of the vehicle.  My massage therapist suffered brain damage when she hit the pavement after slipping on ice in the parking lot.

Our focus on independence may cost us, like the guy who refuses to leave when the flood waters rise.  Thinking about who picks up the pieces doesn’t cross our minds.

Can you afford to get stranded for hours?

Can your heart or lungs hold up to strenuous efforts to free your car from a snow bank?  What happens when your body’s attempts at staying warm mess with your blood sugar?  Or the stress of the whole ordeal brings on pain and diarrhea?

I have a highly polished ability to ignore what I don’t like.  I especially don’t like staying home on those arctic days when others are doing ordinary things, like going to work.  This is true even though experience tells me how I’ll hurt my body, mind, and self-esteem by ignoring how the m.s. in me behaves in harsh conditions.

Instead, control what you can.  Don’t know about you, but I already know what happens when I ignore what that is.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach working especially with the invisibly disabled.  She looks for real-life adventures in Front Range Colorado where the environment’s sometimes restricted by weather extremes. Currently, she’s cleaning up her home office while groovin’ to the oldies. A pirate’s treasure is stacked on the floor; who knows what she’ll find in all that paperwork?  Learn more about Kathe Skinner and the Couples Communication Workshops taught by Kathe & David at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com

©2014, Being Heard, LLC

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