Inspider by Dr Inky’s recent post I thought I’d talk a bit about sports and how sports and disability can go together really, really well.
Firstly – I’m not saying “Oh, all disabled people love sports and exercise” because that’s patently bullshit; You can’t say “All disabled people [verb phrase]” any more than you can say “All [non-self-selecting-group] [verb phrase]”, but here’s a couple of reasons why you might find more disabled people at your local sports centre than you might expect (if you assume disabled people to be unathletic) and thus why, yes, parking in the disabled bay outside the sports centre makes you a tosser.
1 – Exercise is fun
Not specific to the disabled, but exercise is fun. Plenty of people who don’t exercise much say that they would, if only they had the time. Disproportionate numbers of disabled people are out of work, whether because they’re signed off sick, or just because employers discriminate against them. So, we often have time to take up some kind of sport, or stick to a training regime, or start a class or similar.
2 – Exercise is social, and usually social in an easy way
Going to the gym is simple. You get to one building, usually wheelchair-accessible, and you can move around inside that building. There’s often somewhere to eat, there’s people to chat to, and you can arrange to meet people or not meet people as it suits you. There’s also staff on-hand so if anything does go wrong, you can be scooped up and put back together or sent home in an ambulance as-needed. Compared to a night out drinking, it’s easier to get some human contact without horribly injuring yourself or being stranded waiting for a taxi at three in the morning by doing your socialising at a sports centre.
3 – Exercise at a sports centre is more accessible than any other kind of exercise, usually
Think about how much exercise an ablebodied person gets, just by walking. Taking the stairs, going back and forth to the kitchen, walking between bus stops, ferrying things around at work. Now, imagine that instead of these things being something that you do without thinking, that they’re immeasurably painful and make you want to cry, and that at the absolute worst, doing them could result in you needing a hospital trip and surgery. For a lot of disabled people, it’s a matter of either planning in exercise at the gym, or getting no exercise at all.
4 – Exercise is often good for the soul, so to speak
On one hand, there’s nothing worse than someone saying “If you had any self-respect, you’d get fit” but on the other hand, the sense of ownership of your own body that’s engendered by getting really caught up in a sport is a delight. Having a condition where so much of what your body does is out of your control, being able to guarantee a couple of hours a week of testing it in controllable ways and making measurable progress is wonderful.
5 – Exercise is sometimes the only cure
We have physiotherapists, or we have instructions from them, which often say something like “Train until you need to be poured into a bucket and carried home, then poured into a hot bath and poached back into shape”. Plenty of GPs will prescribe exercise as well, and give us cheap and/or free memberships to the local facilities (For example – I have a card which lets me swim or gym at any session for £1.60-£2.20, as opposed to the more usual £3-£5, and which gives me access to a number of completely free sessions as well, which are usually at odd times of day but are still available at any council-owned facility in the county) because it seems to help a lot of people. In the case of EDS, the only “cure” is to be fit; I’ve been told by enough doctors that I need to be the fittest person I know to have the best chance of a reduction in pain and increase in function, and it seems to be true. So you’ll get plenty of people who treat the sports centre almost as a place of worship – Make sacrifices to the bitch-goddess, and be rewarded.
But, as the Senator’s post points out – Most people don’t make the link between disability and sports-centre-use. The idea of facilities for the disabled, at a sports centre, seems like a joke to a lot of people (as in “As useless as a wheelchair lift at the climbing wall”) but really make a lot of sense. Every four years we hold the Paralympics – Where do you think the athletes train for the other 1,200 days? And that’s just the people who get to international levels in their sports; Trust me, ablebodied reader, if I was to cut off both of your legs now, you would not be winning the 100m T43 sprint in Rio. Disabled athletes aren’t just “Good for cripples”, they’re just plain good. (Interestingly, no matter how severe the actual symptoms, EDS swimmers aren’t allowed to swim in any paraswimming category. This annoys me, as although I can’t compete with ablebodied swimmers any more, I still want to play. Any other bendies fancy a race?)
I would just love it if there was more awareness of disability sport as being a thing that people can participate in, rather than being just an inspirational macguffin that gets shown off twice a decade. Not just one or two Paralympians doing a lecture circuit (Although that would be amazing in its own right, and I would love to hear more) but more acknowledgment that we do sports in general; More depictions of disabled people doing sports, so that clubs are prepared when they get members with impairments. More people talking about the differences between going to disability-specific club, and being a disabled person training with ablebodied athletes. Likewise, more knowledge and facilities for sports played mostly by disabled people (From boccia and walking football to the terrifying sledge hockey), and more acknowledgment that they aren’t only played by disabled people; Plenty of people will play wheelchair rugby, even if they’re not even a part-time wheelchair user, usually to keep a wheelchair-using friend company, but still. And just ingeneral, an acknowledgment that, yes, someone can be elegant on horseback, or a brilliant archer, or unbeatable over a 200m sprint… But still need someone to tie their shoelaces or take them to hospital appointments.
In the social justice sphere, there’s been a couple of “body positivity” posts which seem to pit “super fit” and “in a wheelchair” as being opposite ends of a scale (Paired images, fat next to thin, tall next to short… you get the idea). And they really aren’t opposites, they’re two completely different axes. An office drone who lives on Greggs pasties and hates going outdoors will be less fit than a wheelchair user that’s really into rowing and weightlifting and has a freezer full of steamed chicken and broccoli for immediate post-workout protein. I reckon that we’ll have full equality when the world at large recognises that the disabled can be annoying gym-rats, just as much as the rest of the world.
I realise this was mostly just a ramble, but it’ll all get re-done into a real post one day. Right now, it’s just thoughts.