Friday, April 2, 2010

Paralympic swimmers celebrate life

They pride themselves on their independence and self-sufficiency.


By LARRY HELZEL

I recently returned from San Antonio, Texas, where I attended the U.S. Paralympic National Swim Meet as a member of "Team Amanda Walton." Amanda's performance was extraordinary and the three gold medals she earned demonstrated her dedication through countless hours of training with coach Karen Morrison at Ketchum's Zenergy pool. The Mountain Express has already written about the meet results; I want to convey what I learned from the athletes.

These Paralympic swimmers encompass every conceivable physical disability: blind, legless, armless, little people, cerebral palsy, severe scoliosis, spinal cord injuries and many combinations thereof. Regardless of the disability, these athletes share a unique camaraderie, amazing stroke techniques and broad smiles.

Perhaps I was most taken by their honesty. Clad only in the briefest of Speedo racing suits, they are proud to display their bodies. As if to say, "I am totally comfortable in this body; come look at me swim!" I was also struck by the noticeable lack of tattoos. Apparently, most of these athletes don't desire adornment. They've nothing to hide or cover. Celebrating their bodies just the way they are—how could anything be more honest?

They pride themselves on their independence and self-sufficiency. I witnessed some incredible gymnastic feats as swimmers missing limbs were able to get themselves in and out of the pool totally unassisted. I saw a teenage girl having only short stumps for legs pull herself out of the pool, walk on her hands and stumps across the pool deck and up the bleachers to her equipment bag. There, while chatting with a friend, she calmly went through the process of putting on her prostheses. She then slipped on a pair of jeans and stepped into her Uggs. Then, to my complete amazement, she stood up, walked down the bleachers, virtually indistinguishable from any other teenager, (except her posture was noticeably better).

Recognizing Amanda as new to national competition, the other athletes were very encouraging. Cheering her during the races, and giving Amanda hugs and high-fives before and after.

What do we take away from an incredible experience such as this? Such a pure expression of the values and virtues of selflessness, honesty, respect, dedication and achievement. In short, an incredible "presence." They are living in the world that is, and celebrating life, harboring no envy towards what could have been. Please join me in saluting Amanda and her new friends in the pool.




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