for the joy of the game

We just got back from a little road trip to Tuscaloosa to see Carla’s nephew play with his wheelchair basketball teammens_wchairbball

This would be the team from 2006 – her nephew wasn’t in the team this year – but there are several players still on the team from this pic.  Here’s an article leading up to this game.

It was… eye-opening.  Pretty much what I expected, but I didn’t fully anticipate my reaction.

We walked into the gymnasium, sidelines littered with cast off artificial limbs and wheelchairs.  There’s a guy with a big table set up with sport wheelchair accessories.  All over, everywhere, wheelchair-bound athletes are zooming around, warming up or in the middle of a game.  A women’s game was going on at the same time as the men’s game we saw.

I felt like a sicko on the one hand, because I couldn’t help noting their disabilities: this one’s an amputee, this one’s a double amputee, this one has healthy looking legs – must be paralyzed, this one’s legs are stunted and atrophied and asymmetrical, but the athletes were just laying it all out there for whoever to see and get over on their own time: yeah, sheltered housewife dumbass, I have no legs/useless legs/one leg, I am paralyzed from the chest down, I was born this way, I was in a horrible accident, I have a disease that did this to me.  whatever.  PLAY BALL!!

It was painful to watch these men, but simultaneously incredibly inspiring.  Some of them were dreamboat handsome, and I wanted to appeal to the sky on their behalf: These guys should be strutting around campus with rosy-cheeked sorority girls on their arms, but they are stuck in these chairs. 

They played vigorously, aggressively, fearlessly.  Carla said that often some of them will break bones or have bad gashes or scrapes on their lower limbs and not even know it, because the sensation is gone, so they must be carefully examined after games.  Their wheelchairs got locked up together at times, and several times a player tumbled forward onto his face, with the wheelchair on his back like a turtle, only to right himself with no help.

(From the sidelines: DE-FENCE!!  DE-FENCE!!  DE-FENCE!!  DE-FENCE!!)

The Alabama team, Carla’s nephew’s team, lost.  It turned out they had played a professional men’s team, not a college team, so that took some of the sting out.  We cheered and hollered and I lost most of my sensitivitiy to their disabilities.  A handsome black player was watching from the sidelines next to us, with a hip King Tut beard and impressively muscled arms, talking smack about our team.  Waist up: looking like your basic pro basketball player.  Waist down: useless atrophied legs.  Attention directed outward to the game before him, cheering on his friends, casually accepting of his body.  We talked to several of the players after, and they’re just any old sweat-covered, post-game athletes that you’d find anywhere, only sitting in a wheelchair instead of standing.

One of the players had hickeys on his neck (we heard he was the Casanova of the group) and another chatted with a very cute girl (sister? girlfriend?  dunno, but they sure seemed close) after the game.  Beside me in the stands was the young wife of one of the players with their newborn, a fuzzy headed little doll who stared at me with deep black eyes and lifted curious eyebrows and thrashed his little arms.  I was and am curious about their romantic lives.  None of my beeswax, sure, but I can’t help but be curious.

It’s so different now than it used to be for the disabled, which is a beautiful thing.  Even  twenty years ago, wheelchair sports were not this organized, and the disabled didn’t have much of an athletic outlet in most places.  And a hundred years ago – a horror to be born with or hit by a disability.  I don’t like to think about the minds and spirits that were left to languish in terrible places in the old days.

What it all reminded me of, this desensitization to body differences, was our brief time in the PICU of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.  Where you are first horrified and shocked to see a toddler with a feeding tube or respirator, but you very quickly get over it and can smile brightly and chat with the parents and not even see the medical accessories and physical struggles.  Oh! what beautiful eyes/hair/skin your baby has!  Is this his picture?  What a handsome boy!  His medical tests came back encouraging?  Awesome!  What a tough guy!

Desensitizing in a very good way, looking past the disturbing “abnormalities” and seeing the person there.  A good goal, I think.  It makes me want to go back again and again to this kind of event, and spend more time with differently abled people, until I just don’t see the differences any more.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Debra
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 16:12:34

    You might be interested in the documentary “Murderball.” It’s really good.

  2. thisbumpyjourney
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 16:29:53

    That does look great, Debra. We’ll put in on the must-see list. The boys were not with us for this game, so I’d like them to see it, too. I saw that it talks frankly about sex, but I think that’s okay – the guys are 11 and 13 now. I’d like them to learn, like I’d like myself to learn, to be more comfortable with disabled people.

  3. thisbumpyjourney
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 16:30:20

    forgot to thank you for the suggestion, Debra – thanks! 😉

  4. Debra
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 19:57:02

    There isn’t any graphic sex talk, the team kids one member for not liking large breasts.

  5. Debra
    Nov 24, 2008 @ 20:01:05

    Oh, and the way they inspire Gulf War amputees is very moving.

  6. Trackback: ooooo « love, loss, and rainbows
  7. standard manual wheelchair
    Apr 19, 2011 @ 01:19:06

    That was so great!thankz for the post.,
    I would like to congartulate to the ‘amputee’ we know that its really hard to live like you’ve been compared to others or you yourself got discourage on things that leads you think that life becomes unfair. But still manage with the courage you have you still overcome all of it.,Some got their inspiration on plays, because they love to play thats what their body and mind set them free these are what i usually seen on anime series.:)

  8. Mama Jamz
    Apr 19, 2011 @ 19:32:46

    I totally agree. They are so inspiring and so awesome to watch for that very reason. The outgoing and warm attitude of the players when I’ve met them was great as well. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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