Encouragement vs Patronising Amputees and Adaptive Athletes
We all like to be motivated, inspired and encouraged yet when is this taken too far?
How many times a day do you have to be told 'you're an inspiration' before you find it frustrating and feel that people are being patronising?
One of my main goals is to inspire as many people as possible through my achievements and attitude towards life. Having said that, my friends will often ask me whether I find the comments of others encouraging or patronising - I suppose for me, it really does depend on how I feel on the day and the tone in which the comments are said.
Rewinding to an event a few months ago, I was in Germany completing my first Tough Mudder on my prosthetic leg. I was walking the course with a set of crutches and it was fairly obvious that I had a disability. Through that 12 mile course, my teammates and I counted how many times people told me that I was an inspiration - I think we got to about 75 before we stopped counting. I was often tapped on the back and would often almost topple over as a result.
It may have been the German culture or perhaps because my disability was very obvious but so many people commented that day. While we were going round, it was almost a game to see who would be commenting and occasionally running groups would give me a round of applause, which would then escalate my disability and make me feel uncomfortable. As I progressed physically and then completed the course with my running blade, often overtaking others, the number of comments depleted.
The minimum that I have received while on course is 2 and that was a very strange day for me. At that specific event, I was aiming to try and finish the course as quickly as possible, as I had entered the competitive wave. It was very strange not to have the encouragement of others however it was great to just be seen as an athlete, regardless of my disability. It felt great to be seen as a successful athlete - especially as others were congratulating me and then looked down to find that I only had one leg.
I suppose it is a difficult balance in general - wanting to be seen as a successful athlete but also subconsciously wanting the recognition for overcoming your physical and mental barriers associated with your disability. I suppose as I 99% of the time compete with those that are able-bodied, I am seen as 'inspiring,' which is fantastic but I am yet to inspire another adaptive athlete to complete the course off of their own back (i.e without me contacting them and dragging them round a course).
Having a visible disability is great for receiving encouragement however I have run in the past with those with a hidden disability. Does my more visible disability mean I should receive more recognition? I don't think so.... We are surrounded in life with those struggling with injuries, mental health difficulties and other hidden disabilities. Please remember when encouraging others that their peers may also be struggling and it may be better to congratulate a whole group, instead of singling one person out.
Another comment that I frequently get it that I am 'very brave and strong', as though I had an option. Although I may have been brave to take the decision to amputate my leg, I have just adapted to the cards that life has given me. I suppose when you're faced with difficult decisions, you have to just do what is right for you and your body. Please don't call me brave -I'm just a normal human that is trying to make the best out of a not-so-good situation.
Encouragement is good. On the other hand, patronising head pats and shoulder taps are not good. Adaptive athletes overcome many challenges, just to attend an event, but should be recognised just the same as our able-bodied peers who have overcome their own challenges. I know I have been used many times as the 'poster boy' for many organisations simply for my disability. I love it as I'm very open with my disability but let's take some extra time to appreciate those with hidden disabilities too!
Let's all encourage, inspire and motivate others!