Sports & Equal Rights: Double-Amputee To Run in Olympics
There’s a been a recent increase in participation in Unified Sports teams, in which students with intellectual disabilities are partnered with students who do not have disabilities. There are now more than 2,000 schools in 42 different states with Unified Sports teams, with one of the largest programs being in Montgomery County, Maryland, where about 100 students with intellectual disabilities and without play basketball.
Over a third of children with disabilities are overweight and programs to encourage sports and exercise can play a key role in helping students learn skills for lifelong fitness and to get in the habit of daily physical activity.
Athletes of All Abilities Can Do It!
Exercise plays a huge, huge role in my teenage autistic son Charlie‘s daily activities. Record-setting heat or not, he goes on at least one several-mile bike ride a day with my husband Jim, plus a couple of mile-long walks (sometimes sprints) with me at a racewalker’s pace. Charlie enjoys the workout and the sense of accomplishment, especially from the bike rides that enable him to cover miles on miles through his own efforts.
All of this activity has become so much a part of our daily routine that it’s hard to remember a time when when we wondered if Charlie would ever be able to pedal his tricycle, much less balance a two-wheeler. People were glad to encourage our efforts to get Charlie a-bike but always with a little air of “good luck and don’t worry if he never gets it.”
Such sentiments were kindly to hear. But individuals with disabilities, intellectual and physical and of all sorts, can get a bit weary of hearing that “it’s okay if you can’t.”
Oscar Pistorius and the Olympics
For this reason, I was very excited to learn that Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee runner who uses J-shaped, carbon-fiber prosthetic blades called “cheetahs,” was named on Wednesday to South Africa’s track team for the London 2012 Olympics. He will be the first amputee to compete in the Olympics.
Pistorius has “forced sports officials and fans to reconsider the distinction between disabled and able-bodied athletes,” notes the New York Times, with some charging that his prosthetic devices gave him an unfair advantage against other athletes. After extensive, and expensive, testing, Pistorius was cleared to run against able-bodied athletes by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in Switzerland, in 2008; he has since made it a point to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics. While he failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he won a number of medals at that year’s Paralympics and also in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.
Indeed, you could argue that Pistorius is putting himself through far more exertions than most athletes as track events for the London Olympics are in early August while the Paralympics, where he has qualified in the 100, 200, 400 and 4×100 relay, start on August 29.
“It’s a great day for sports in particular, and more broadly, it’s a great day for equal rights. There’s not evidence that the running prostheses allow him to run at a faster pace than is biologically achievable. To me, it was always a case of equality.”
I’m looking forward to cheering on Pistorius in August, inbetween pulling Charlie’s bike out of the backyard shed and running with him on my neighborhood streets.
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Photo by Stuart Grout