Sunday, May 8, 2016

Making Waves

I am writing this, not to really share any news, because let's be real...you've probably seen these photos on social media.  I'm writing this for me, so that I don't forget, ever, the thoughts and memories that have been traveling through my head.

It's been a journey, and as they say, "If it's easy, it's probably not worth doing."  Well this has been worth doing.  But if you had told me 13 years ago that the baby I was holding, who would endure countless procedures, surgeries, setbacks and hurdles would join his school track team...I would have laughed and laughed. 

Then I would have cried, bawled really. 

These are things I mourned as I grappled with watching other babies take their first steps, or crawl all over the floor.  I smiled, sure.  I was happy for you and your child, sure, but I was sad too.  I don't care what you think, when you walk a mile in my shoes (or my husbands) it is not an easy mile.  Sometimes we celebrated milestones, sometimes we mourned those not attained.

And these same feelings surfaced repeatedly with the ever changing sports season.  Soccer season.  Basketball season.  Baseball Season.  For the most part I held them inside.  As vocal as I am, it's hard to show people these sad feelings.  I generally look at the positives, because I would be a very bitter person, with a very bitter family if I chose to concentrate on the negatives.  So I don't...we don't.  Because of that my son is the confident teenager he is.  

He has the courage to join teams that others say he cannot.  He has played t-ball, and I sat at those games cheering him on and secretly wondering if they were all really just ignoring the differences or if they were secretly pitying him.  But there were just positives...always.

Then came soccer...soccer and crutches.  Most people would say "NO WAY!" or cite rules about why he can't use his crutches out on the field, but these teams did not.  They allowed him to play.  Was it easy, no not always, not for him, and not for me to watch.  But he did it.  All he wanted to do was play with his friends, and all I wanted was to sit on the sidelines and watch him, just like any other parent.  It's actually easier I think to cite the rules, to underscore his limitations, and say "nope" than it is to try to look around and see his abilities. 

Jason has been lucky in regards to the fact that we have searched out and found wonderful adaptive sports options for him.  And I will not discount these programs, as they have played a huge part in allowing him to be the athlete he wants to be.  Sled hockey, wheelchair basketball, and his love of wheelchair track and field are the avenues Jason needs to be active.  These programs have also shown Jason what is possible for him to achieve if he works hard.  He has made life long friends with other athletes on his teams.  He has met countless para athletes who have gotten where they are because of their hard work.  I'd like to also mention that these are the avenues that my husband and I needed to have the ability to support our son.  These parents know the struggles, but they also know the reward. 

But Jason wanted more.  He wanted to be part of a school team.  That's good, that's healthy, and it's normal.  But it's not as easy as just saying that he wants to be part of it.  He doesn't want to just practice as he has had to do on some teams he has played on with able-bodied athletes.  He didn't want to be the score keeper or record keeper.  He wanted to practice with his team, improve his skills and participate in competitions (whether they be games or meets) with his team.  So we thought about soccer but that didn't work for us as a family so we began the process of signing him up for modified track and field. 

And it's a process.  We had to have not only a regular physical, but letters from his doctors saying he could play.  Which is fine...of course we asked them, because it's the right thing to do, we wouldn't want him to be unsafe.  But then we had to ask the state.  Because it's not as easy as saying, yup you can push yourself in your chair and race your fellow peers or use your throwing chair to throw discus and shot put.  So we, along with the Athletic Director, petitioned the state for a waiver in order for him.  The most annoying thing about this was the waiting, and the fear that they would say "No".  We petitioned in the fall.  We got an affirmative answer in February or March (I don't remember).  Then came the discussions.  What should the waiver say, what has to be covered.  The gentleman from NYS Athletics was great.  He did his research and when he met with us he spoke to Jason and listened to what we had to say.  Overall I think it's pretty fair.  The scoring (or lack there of) could be debated either way but this is a process and I keep reminding my son of that (and myself).  It wasn't as easy as just submitting a physical at the beginning of the season and signing some papers.  Someday I hope it is that easy, for all athletes.



I also want to mention that our community and our school has been great.  I don't want Jason treated any differently.  I want the bar to be set high when it comes to his grades, to his sportsmanship.  Jason is expected to show up to practices, to practice hard and not goof off and to represent his school and his team well at meets.   I thanked his coaches for treating him equally and for their support and they both shook it off, saying they are just doing their job.  They are doing their job.  But I've asked them to step outside their vision of what an athlete can look like, how track and field can be done, and they've done so with grace and strength.  It's not easy learning a whole new way to train an athlete or troubleshooting how to get Jason's equipment to the meets and out to the track and figuring out the logistics of what he will participate in.  But they have risen to the challenge and with it have been able to bring an awareness to all the modified track athletes and coaches in their league that a differently abled person can be an athlete as well.  It's not easy being the first but I sincerely hope that the attention that Jason is getting in the media coverage brings about more athletes who are differently-abled and shows them that they can participate in school athletics.

All of it was worth it last week when I got to see my son in a Westmo uniform and racing on a track with all his fellow peers.  He was happy.  I was happy...and nervous.  I'm forever afraid someone is going to say something derogatory or say he doesn't belong out there.  But he does.  He's a 7th grade track athlete.  He just does it a little different, and as we tell him over and over again...that's okay.