What Will Be Written About Disabled Athletes?

The writer of the following article can not claim to know a disabled athlete. She did once benefit from her friendship with a disabled writer. He critiqued the first article that she submitted to a children’s magazine. Once a week for one full semester, the wheelchair bound, professional writer had lunch with the fledgling writer, providing her with material for many future articles.
What do writers have to say about disabled athletes? During the past month, the members of one writers’ group have corresponded about how to describe a disabled athlete. Each piece of correspondence came in the form of an e-mail.

That particular writers’ group contains writers who live all over the world. They have never met each other. They simply share their thoughts using the Internet. They precede each of their e-mail messages with the letters “BWG.”

Those writers spent the past month focusing on various ways to describe a disabled person. One writer had a great deal to “say” about the description of someone in a wheelchair. That writer seemed to disdain use of the word “disabled.” She also frowned on use of the word “confined.”

Some of the writers chose to emphasize the intellectual and spiritual side of human beings. For such writers, the word “disabled” seem to fall short of the mark, as a proper description for someone in a wheelchair. The same writers could not look at those with physical handicaps as “disabled.”

Other writers wanted to encourage use of what they felt to be a more truthful description. One writer, for example, challenged the contention that a person in a wheelchair should not be described as “confined.” That writer wrote this question in an email: “Is a writer in a wheelchair not confined?”

One writer, a writer who presented the others with only a few of her thoughts, could recall a time when the son of her music teacher had been confined to a wheelchair. She thought that “confinement” described well that boy’s situation. He was at that time recovering from a leg injury, and he could not participate in any sports activities.

Was he a disabled athlete? He was a young boy who yearned to leave his wheelchair and play with his friends. His friends usually engaged in some sort of sports activity. The summer that the young boy was in a wheelchair, the future writer saw him sitting by the side of the swimming pool. Later she heard from her music teacher the disquieting thoughts of that same boy, once he was released from his confinement.

Apparently the young boy did not feel overcome with joy. Instead he resented the fact that he had gained so much weight. He wanted to re-gain the slimmer figure that he had had before having to deal with a leg injury.

He came up with a drastic plan. He decided that he would simply not eat for as long as possible. He pursued that plan for more than 24 hours, and then he suddenly fainted. At that point, he had to reveal his plan to the doctors, and to his parents.

The parents of course took immediate action. They got him in a program that would help him to loose weight, while taking-in the nutrients that his young body needed. They released him from the outrageous confines of his self-imposed diet.

That story turns the tables on the word “confinement.” It implies that we might all live under a type of confinement, a confinement created by the expectations of society. In many ways, the disabled athlete has stepped free from that confinement.
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