That was a DISS (ability) part 2 : The New York Marathon and Paralympic racers

So. I had a huge and really good response from my first blog regarding Kanye West and my date with Motorcycle Mike. I couldn’t think of a really good way to follow up that stream of consiousness…I mean, I have a TON of notes still that needed to be re-organized into a coherent thought and I knew in between a hectic move to another state it would make itself clear.

Things were getting warmer until a couple days ago, when I had all the green lights to continue on with this theme. I woke up and did the usual social media rounds, and noticed I had A LOT of friends posting an article about ESPN’s coverage of the NY Marathon (which you can read here) all with VERY interesting responses to #4 in particular, which is as follows:

“4) This isn’t PC, but ESPN deserved kudos for not spending much time on the wheelchair racers. Yes, American Tatyana McFadden got a decent amount of time as she completed the Grand Slam, and I’m fine with that. But ESPN thankfully didn’t miss key parts of the men’s or women’s races to show you the wheelchairs. They showed a tape of the finish. Thank you.

The wheelchair racers are inspiring for sure but it’s not elite sport in the same sense of running. The best marathoners are the best of millions of runners on the globe. The best wheelchair racers are the best of, what, a few thousand wheelchair racers at most? There were more than 44,000 marathon finishers in New York – just 66 in the wheelchair division.

ESPN is in the business of covering elite sporting events. They know this and thus covered the wheelchair racers appropriately for the most part.”

So naturally, I was kind of super pissed. I get that this is obviously a VERY opinionated editorial, and that this guy most likely is very selective in his education in the running community in the United States. (Like most Americans)

But this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The first week when I came to Phoenix for training I met a lot of people. Track people, fitness people, and randos in the middle. One of which was a British man I had a brief conversation with about Paralympic sport. He first asked me what school I was running for (because I look 12 most of the time) and when I told him I did Paralympic track and field his response was very refreshing. “Oh, that isn’t widely recognised in this country, isn’t it?”

And I agreed, I’ve had this thought for a few months now trying to wrap my mind about how Paralympic sports are viewed in the US, and why… This guy spelled it out for me without even asking!

“Yes, in GB we really love Paralympic sport. We know the athletes. It’s not the same as regular track and field but we know each athlete and their specific strengths.”

At that moment, my mind = blown.

All of the pieces started falling into place, and then it became really simple. Paralympic sport (track in particular) isn’t equal or “parallel” to other sports. Yes, the events are the same but the variables are WAY different. And the even COOLER thing about Paralympic sport is that ANYONE can try it. Sitting volleyball is a Paralympic-specific sport, but “able-bodied” people can also play. (Although an excess of legs kind of puts you at a disadvantage) Wheelchair (marathon) racing is also completely available to anyBODY.

Paralympic sport, in essence is any sport but on hard mode.

So, back to Mr. Johnson’s statement… let’s brake it down, shall we?

“4) This isn’t PC, but ESPN deserved kudos for not spending much time on the wheelchair racers.

-I think if somewhere deep down inside your conciousness, even after some editing (hopefully) you still keep this as an opening statement… you have got to know you’re about to say or do something very wrong. I never knew what people meant on the internet when they said “facepalm” up until the first moment I read that sentence. Wowza.

Yes, American Tatyana McFadden got a decent amount of time as she completed the Grand Slam, and I’m fine with that. But ESPN thankfully didn’t miss key parts of the men’s or women’s races to show you the wheelchairs. They showed a tape of the finish. Thank you.

-That’s because Tatyana McFadden is a BOSS. She has over ten summer Paralympic medals for numerous events as winning a silver medal at Sochi for an event she tried out THAT YEAR. Sheesh.

The wheelchair racers are inspiring for sure but it’s not elite sport in the same sense of running.

This is why I hate the word “inspiring.” There are elite wheelchair racers. No, it’s not in the same sense of running, but ANYBODY can sit in a wheelchair and try to push for 26.2 miles. I doubt their times would be comparable if they even finish. Just like how they could ALL close their eyes, wear a blindfold and also try to run a marathon blind. That’s the difference of paralympic sport, it’s all encompassing to people of ALL abilities, the irony of course is that people with specific disabilities tend to have an advantage. What a world…

The best marathoners are the best of millions of runners on the globe. The best wheelchair racers are the best of, what, a few thousand wheelchair racers at most? There were more than 44,000 marathon finishers in New York – just 66 in the wheelchair division.

If buying training shoes cost somewhat close to $5000 a pop, like a sport-specific wheelchair, I’m sure the amount of marathon finishers would probably be a little smaller as well. According to newsdisability.com (which is a little outdated) as of 2002 there were 2.8 million wheelchair users JUST in the United States which still is less than 1% of the 300 million people they accounted for, to assume that there just aren’t that many wheelchair users or persons with physical disabilities is grossly ignorant. Like, come on now.
ESPN is in the business of covering elite sporting events. They know this and thus covered the wheelchair racers appropriately for the most part.”

This year, ESPN covered the elite wheelchair racers very well, which is more appropriate than their coverage last year. Wheelchair racing does indeed have elite levels, and should be respected as such. You want to see an athlete who is passionate about their sport, look at any paralympic level athlete. The financial cost, as well as the physical exertion is WAY beyond that of “able bodied” athletes. Not to mention our prize money/sponsorship/forms of income are exponentially less than that of traditional athletes. Anyone can look throughout history and see the parallels of the way Americans regard disabled sport the same way they regarded women’s sports during Title IX. It’s kind of amazing.

The writing is on the wall, but we need an event to make it happen! Every minority group in history overcame adversity in some sort of civil movement. It’s only a matter of time before persons with disabilities have theirs. Because it actually doesn’t JUST benefit those affected, but actually betters the community as a whole on a global scale. Just like anything else, education is key. I can only hope to be a part of the movement when it happens.

(Thanks for reading this rant! Please excuse my editing I haven’t unpacked my computer yet and tried this all on my iPad. Brutal)

One Comment on “That was a DISS (ability) part 2 : The New York Marathon and Paralympic racers

  1. I’m disabled, I’m a left leg amputee an I would like to know how I can get some info on trying to be a Paralympic swimmer. I swim for DASA ( disabled athlete sport association), I want to make it to the Paralympics but I need to talk to someone, and I have no idea on who to turn to. Thank You, Diana Walker

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