When all kinds of things were shutting down and canceled in mid-March due to the Coronavirus, like everyone else, I was disappointed. For me, it meant a reduction in caregiver staff and the loss of some income. And like everyone else around me I had to adjust to the new normal of sheltering in place because that is what was necessary.
When the NCAA games were canceled, I was disappointed. Lawrence is a basketball town, and although I admit that I am a pretty fair-weather fan, I do like watching the Jayhawks during March Madness, as they start to win.
When I heard that the Olympic Games in Tokyo were going to be postponed for a year, I was beyond disappointed. I stopped what I was doing and had to take several deep breaths when I heard that news. What those athletes were going through is something that I can, unfortunately, relate to.
It was sometime in the early summer of 1986, I was seventeen years old and in the best shape of my life. I had worked out hard earlier in the day and I was in my bedroom resting. Several months prior I had gotten the best news ever. I had been one of the thirty-seven athletes from across the country chosen to represent the United States in the International Games for the Disabled.
Joining a sports team for people with cerebral palsy about four years earlier had been good for me. There were people on that team who were older than I was and they became my mentors. Through watching them live their lives, I got a glimpse of what my future might look like. But sports also gave me an outlet to channel some energy, both positive and negative. There were countless days I took the frustration I felt from being different and put it all into pushing my wheelchair around the track. I didn’t work out alone. The head high school football coach took an interest in my training and worked out with me every day throughout my high school career. He was the one who helped me to see that it was only because of my disability that I was able to excel in sports, not in spite of it. When I came to that realization, disability became a good thing in my life.
When I found out that I was going to the International competition, I worked as hard as I could. Hours in the weight room. Endless laps around the track. 10 more reps. One more set. Again. Keep going. Don’t stop. A few weeks before we were supposed to leave, my time in the 400-meter dash was only two seconds slower than the world record at the time. So many people who supported me thought I was going to take that record and bring it home. It was not to be. On that early summer day in 1986, mom came into my room and told me she had gotten a phone call. The games, that were supposed to be held in Belgium, were canceled due to terrorism.
It’s hard to describe what my feelings were like over the next few weeks. It’s not something I ever remember talking about publicly. Looking back, I remember the most prevalent feeling being that of uncertainty. I had put my heart and soul into my training for years. When the games were canceled, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with my time. At that point, sports were all that I had. They were all that I knew. What made it worse was that I knew that I was done. I went to college a few months later as I had planned and I never competed again. Could I have broken the world record in the 400-meter dash that year? It’s something I will never know. The good news is that some of my teammates were able to go to Spain to compete two years later. For them, the games being canceled in 1986 just meant that their dreams were postponed a bit. When the world settled down, then they could see them through.
The same is the case for most of the Olympic athletes of this year. The Olympic Games are scheduled to take place next summer in Tokyo. That means more time to train and prepare and that is always a good thing. However, I am sure there are some athletes, though, who won’t be able to compete because life has a way of interrupting plans like that. And I am sure that has some of the athletes feeling off-balance and uncertain. I can relate, although I wish that I couldn’t. I totally feel their pain.
A situation like that is beyond disappointing.