I wanted to write something different for a change, its running related so bear with me.
I’ve been thinking recently about disabilities and the adventure world I now sometimes dwell in, I’ve never come across any other runners with notable disabilities, or really talked with many over social media. It was after an episode of Emmerdale (enforced I may add) a child was diagnosed with a ‘disability’ but it struck me that it became more about the parents self-pity and woe than any positive message, so thought I would talk about me, my favourite subject. Tell my own story.
My story starts 36 years ago, it wasnt until the day after I was born that the nurses noticed that I had been born ‘different, ‘a congenital abnormality of the right hand’, yep pretty technical terminology. Basically I was born with just my thumb on my right hand, my parents were kindly informed by the expert Dr’s that I would never amount to anything. Can you imagine that, being told that about your child, my life seemingly dictated and damned by a guy in a hospital, all the knowledge skill and education to condemned a child at birth.
I spent a lot of time throughout my childhood dipping in and out of hospital, minor and major operations a plenty. My first operation at only 2yo trying to transplant a toe to my hand, this was pioneering stuff in the 80’s prior to that they’d stitch your hand to your waist, let the fat and skin grow over it and then shape it, lovely image eh, it failed infection was the cause. My final surgery happened when I was 13yo, after 10.5hrs of surgery and two weeks in HDU I was the proud owner of a 2nd finger on my hand, this gave me an oposing grip which became an added bonus.
I was also now the owner of just 8 toes, making me extra unique. I was lucky growing up, my family encouraged me to do everything and treated me as ‘normal’. I never felt different and any bully who tried was, erm, well made to say sorry.
My old man worked as a lumber jack ( que the monty python tune ) so I spent a lot of time outside. School holidays were spent playing in the woods, driving tractors and using chainsaw’s, exploring places few would venture. I’ve heard foxes scream through mist filled 5am woods, watched badgers emerge from their home at dusk and gazed at kingfishers darting through the sky skimming the river I fished, woke up to icicles on the inside of a caravan window, slept in the middle of woods and high in the hills.
I did more than normal kids my age and im thankful for that. Its got me thinking recently about my running and adventures and how I might some how incorporate this into it.
When I was growing up, it was still very much you are different you can’t attain the same as a ‘full person’. This pushed me to prove them wrong, tell me I cant and I will, it’s an attitude I’ve taken through life. I remember approaching an army recruiter when I was around 6 yo and thrusting my hand in his face asked if I could join the army, to say he was stumped was an understatement.
I left school trained as a joiner, then as a psychiatric nurse, I still get the odd times when people pull their hand away from my handshake as if its covered in dog shit, then apologise! Why? I’m not sure what their apologising for, them being idiots or my hand.
Having only 4 toes on each foot could be seen as a disadvantage, shoes don’t fit well, the loads put on my feet sit differently and very occasionally Im prone to nerve pain in my left foot, this I understand is more trainer fit and I’ve adapted as I’ve gone.
I’m a firm believe that most disabilities are in people’s attitudes towards you, their preconception that just because your different you are less able. If people treat you like this then mentally you take on that persona, you become in effect disabled.
Now ive had a discussion with people around loss of limbs, yes its life changing but once you have prosthetics you are no longer as disabled as you were, I was given all manner of fancy helping things, stuff that any crazy inventor would happy with, from forks that were knives and spoons to full-blown false hands all of which made me worse, I used to love going to the prosthetics lab though, the false eyes peered back at you from shelves, parts of bodies adorned rows and there was enough to make my own Frankenstein
Those who’ve gone before
Duncan Slater- not a name many will be familiar with, a double leg amputee completed first double amputee to race to the south pole, raced recently the marathon des sables with prosthetic limbs,he completed the 150mile journey, completing it under normal circumstances is hard enough.
Amy Palmiero-Winters holds 11 records in various ultra and triathlon events, below knee amputee.
Jason Lester-, paralysed arm after car accident, well know ultra athlete. These are just a few examples, there are many more out there, the recent media attention around the paralympic has shown what can be achieved.
All these people have something more than others, drive, determination and will to succeed beyond what socially is expected of them.
I’m fortunate that I was just left to it, encouraged and never stopped doing anything. Disabilities are only disabilities if you allow them to be, believe you can and you will. So advice if you know someone who is treat them as an equal, treat them no different from anyone else, people don’t need wrapping on cotton wool. Encourage and prompt, let them try new things, if it doesn’t work it’s a learning curve. The world these days are more capable and geared up to be inclusive for everyone.
I have to mention these guys Freedom wizard, they are one of the most unique groups operating in the world of adventure at the moment, based in the wonderful lake district they have tirelessly raised money to buy rugged all terrain wheel chairs which will enable those bound by wheelchairs to access and share in the amazing scenery some of us take for granted.