Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Smells Like Team Spirit

While on the New York Times website, I was scrolling through a list of articles and found one titled, "The Amputee Advantage?" It certainly caught my attention. Using "THE" in the title is definitive; there is an advantage. Then it's followed by a question mark; indicating a problem, difficulty or some query. Interesting... I clicked it.

The story was about Oscar Pistorius and his recently won his fight to try out for THE Olympics. Oscar is a double amputee and sprinter from South Africa. Four years ago he competed in the Paralympics, but this year he wants to compete in the other Olympics. Officials worried that his state of the art prosthetics gave him an unfair advantage.

Boy, give a guy a leg up (pun intended) and his able-bodied peers stand up and scream foul! It's foul alright!

Oscar runs using a prosthetic leg called a Cheetah. The manufacturer advertises it as a flexible foot prosthetic made with carbon fiber; it offers a person strength and flexibility. It's energy efficient; a user can walk further and longer. It offers more stability than a traditional prosthesis; and it gives the person a "natural" gait. You know, it works like a leg and foot; however, it does not look at all like a leg and a foot.

A picture of Oscar Pistorius sitting on a track, changing from his everyday prosthetic legs' to his running legsPhoto from the NY Times

And here is where, I think, the bigotry enters the scene. Since WWII, amputees have been put in a "normalized" medical rehab model of service delivery. Initially, legs were not very comfortable, stable or efficient, but by God, they looked like legs. Society thought that was more important than function.

Over the years the prosthetics improved to the point where they can be adapted to a particular activity like running, walking a fashion show runway, climbing, and dancing (even in dancing there are variations; legs that are bouncier for dances like the jitterbug and legs that are a better fit for a tango). This is somehow disturbing to the general public. They are saying, "These amputees are getting kind of uppity."

We've moved on. They have not. We have defined ourselves outside society's comfort level; not "their way" any more. So, we attack the environmental barriers we face. Someone invents Cheetahs so we can use them if our goal is to run like the wind, which is exactly what Oscar Pistorius is doing. It's no advantage; it's opportunity.

I first saw a Cheetah, or something similar, while enjoying one of my guiltiest of pleasures... reality television. A young woman, Sarah Reinersten, and her boyfriend competed in the sixth season of The Amazing Race. She battled along with the other adventurers; scaling walls and eating disgusting entrails. Certainly without the Cheetah, she would have been sitting on the couch watching it all, like me. But with it... well, she made me very proud. She didn't win. She and her partner went out 6th. But during her time, she came in first on two segments of the race. She was there to compete and that is what she got to do.

And that is what Oscar just won; the opportunity to compete. It doesn't mean he is going to Beijing; it means he gets the opportunity to try out for the team. He still has to shave an entire second off his time to qualify (which is a long time in sprinter time).

If he makes the team and goes to Beijing I'll be there, in front of the TV, rooting for him. No matter what color jersey he wears, or country he runs for, Oscar is on my team and we are part of the disability nation!


Karen said...

I agree, he should be given the chance to try out and compete.

Terri said...

I agree! I am so excited about this opportunity.

andrea said...

Hell, if the cheetas were REALLY a major advantage, wouldn't the other runners be contemplating getting some of their own?

Yeah, right.