I remind myself every day that people have good intentions. Sure, they may do or say something that is ignorant, but they do have good intentions. This does not allow for me to feel that what they have said or done is acceptable, but it simply helps me understand and be empathetic. More often than not, I find myself working very hard to practice this when people are trying to be of assistance, but are actually being insensitive and honestly unawaringly insulting.
Simply put, do not grab me. Grabbing someone who has a visible disability is displeasing. This happens to me at street intersections, near stair cases and other areas that are only made more dangerous and challenging when someone comes out of no where, startles me and grabs m. Now, this person means to offer assistance, but they are forcing their assistance based on false pretense; just because someone has a disability does not automatically mean they are in need of assistance. The best thing you can do is actually offer assistance by asking a question. From my observations, so people with disabilities may still be offended if you ask, but that is their own baggage.
I do not get so upset over this because of pride, but because I, like many other folks with disabilities, have developed a great set of skills and strategies in navigating complex environments. These skills and strategies come to as naturally and when they are suddenly disrupted with no gentleness, we are thrown off guard and this can result in a dangerous situation. For example, I know exactly how to use my cane to approach a set of stairs and can do so with great speed and ease. However, when someone feels the need to grab the collar of my shirt as I am at the first step to alarm me that there are stairs in front of me, this frightens me and can result in me losing my balance. Better-yet, I may think you are trying to rob me and may have the instinct to elbow you with all of my might and break your nose.
Additionally, when I am at a street intersection, do not grab me and attempt to safely escort me across the street, especially when the cars still have a green light. I do not know how many times people have told me to cross the street with them when I know very well that traffic still has the green light and the crossing light has not yet turned on. I know how to follow the patterns of traffic flow to understand when I can and can not cross a street. I do not want to be dragged into your stupidity and killed.
Some people will attempt to defend grabbing a person with a disability by comparing this scenario to seeing a child try to cross the street. Here is the difference: I am a grown, hairy man. I am 28-years-old and have acquired critical thinking skills which have given me the ability to navigate many complex situations over the last 28 years. Finally, my beard is also a symbol for “I must have made it pretty damn far in life to grow this beast” as well. Trying to compare these two completely different scenarios only supports the fact that some people see those with disabilities much like they do children. I am not an unaware and naive child, though.
I will not lie, there are some situations where it has been alright to grab me. The people who have grabbed me in these situations are family, friends and colleagues who have asked the questions and have gotten to know what my preferences and occasional needs for assistance are. Their automatic reactions have been informed and built upon mutual trust, conversation and learning. It has not been built upon bias and assumptions. Folks, the point of this post is to ask. If you do not know the person at all, you need to simply ask if they would like assistance.
Red light – rant over.
I have been working my way through another slight set back this year. In late January, I slightly twisted my left ankle during a run with my guide for the marathon this year. It was not a terrible twist, but the issue is that it was the ankle and leg I have had injuries with over the last 2 years. Because of this, this slight twist had a strong impact on my ability to run. Fortunately, I have been seeing a physical therapist and I am back in running shape. I am in a bit of a time crunch, but with a solid 7 weeks left ro run, I feel confident that this is plenty of time to fit in some good long runs and be prepared for the marathon this year. Well, it is enough time for an amature runner to be able to train to the extent that they know they will be able to cross the finish line of a marathon. That’s good enough.
With only such a short amount of time left until the marathon, every single day counts and can not be taken for granted. Since I had this slight set back, I have restrategized my training and goal for the marathon. My desired pace has gone back up to 10 minute miles, so that I can keep my pace healthy and safe as I work to quickly bring up the mileage between now and the marathon. Just this past weekend, I went for another run with my guide, Laura, and felt quite exhausted 30 minutes into the run. I became pretty concerned over the fact that I was feeling slightly winded and hardly started running. Just as this feeling came over me, Laura informed me that she was pushing us at an 8:56:00 minute pace. With out having to tell her that I need to push hard between now and the marathon, she took the liberty of doing just this. More than anything, I was impressed with her and thankful. We held out at this pace for quite some time and put in a 10 mile run. It was a bit shorter than I had wanted, but I did not want to push myself over the edge and trigger my injury. It was a solid run.
That night, I cleaned my room and came across several shirts left over from the 2012 marathon that I had designed and printed. All I have left in my possession are several extra larges. The other 90 shirts were sold and distributed as part of my fund raising and marketing for that year. The design was basic and consisted of a stick figure with sunglasses and a goatee, holding a cane in a running pose with my name, the address to my blog and a broader title which said 2012 Boston Marathon.
These shirts are feather-lite, but in that moment, they felt like concrete. I was thinking back to that time of my life and how far I have come since that marathon. I then calculated the total number of days since January 1st of 2011, when I started training, to the date of the marathon this year and the total number of days came out to 1,206. It will have been over 1,206 days since I started training and set out to cross the finish line of the Boston marathon. The last three and a half years feel like much more than how they appear on paper. Everything that has happened, the amount I have grown, my success and my challenges have made the last three and a half years feel so much longer. When I was holding these shirts, it felt as thought I was holding an artifact. My mission and purpose in all of this is strong and I am proud for my persistence. With that said, I am damn tired and exhausted.
Am I going to give up? No. Do I feel like giving up? No. Do I feel myself giving in? Yes, a little bit. While my life has gone full speed ahead over the last 1,206 days, for better or for worse, part of me feels like one thing has been almost caught in time, or has been suspended, and that is crossing the finish line. It is like being stuck on the eve of a holiday: You are filled with joy and excitement for the big day, but you must wait. In this waiting there is joy, energy, but also some anxiety. Right now, the anxiety is taking it’s toll on me.
In no way, shape or form do I mean to sound as though I am complaining about the amount of work that is required to train and run in a marathon. It is just the fact that I have been doing this for so long, to simply be able to cross one finish line. My spirit is quite tired. At the same time, this realization and self awareness has truly humbled me because I think part of me now feels what some others have found in my story. It is incredible that I have not given up.
I was 24 years old when I chose to set out on this journey and I will be 28 years old when I cross the finish line. As I have stated, crossing the finish line for the first time is only my starting line to something greater, to the real story that will be written and shared. This has been the longest prelude, ever.
For as long as I can remember, I have narrowly escaped numerous situations where I should have suffered grave injuries. For some reason, I have not been as hurt as one would have expected. On one hand, many of these situations have possibly been due to my constant need to adapt to the loss of vision and not meeting these new demands as well as I should. On the other hand, I believe I am also simply a goof. Regardless, the combination of these two qualities makes for some dicey, yet interesting experiences.
When I was very young, perhaps 7 or 8-years-old, I had gone sledding at my baby sitter’s house with her youngest daughter. This family has a very large plot of land on a hill. At the time, the hill had dozens of apple trees with clear pathways going throughout the area. As I and this young girl set of on our sled, we seemed to have quickly gone in a direction which presented some dangerous obstacles, which I hit. My friend shouted for us to jump ship, but I did not hear exactly what she had said. I was confused by what she had done, but kept moving straight ahead on the sled. Although I had much, much more vision at this point in my life, I still had poor vision. What I did not see coming at me was a large branch that was hanging low. I passed through the branch and felt the arms of it cut across my face. By the time we got back into the house, I was bleeding all over my face and it looked like Freddy Kruger had gotten to me. Several of the deep cuts had managed to pass over and around my eyes. I was fortunate enough to not have had any of my eyes poked out nor scars left on my face. That was the worst scenario from my childhood. The next few took place when I was in college. Perhaps, still a child during these times as well.
During summer break of my fourth year in college, I had been home in New Hampshire to work for my family business. We had a store on our property with quite a bit of constant work to be done on site. The back end of our lot was where we kept mountains of pea stone and “3/4 stone (small baby rocks and dime sized rocks) for filling the bottom of waterfalls with. I had loaded the back of our pickup truck with about 12 buckets of this material and climbed up into the bed of the truck for the ride up to the front of our property. For some reason, I chose to sit on the wall of the bed and dangle my legs over the side. As my dad took off up our small service road, he went faster than I had expected and my legs jolted from this movement. My left foot hit a tire and sent my leg vertical. Before I knew it, I had fallen off the back of the truck and landed on the ground. To be more specific, I landed in a large mud puddle on my side. My sister heard my groan from a greenhouse and stepped outside to see what had happened. I stood up, checked over myself and said I fell out of the back of a moving truck. I just had a few scrapes. I had managed to not land on a large rock nestled in the dirt where I had fallen into. I then got back to work.
The worst and most frightening incident I had was at college. During one of my years working for Residential Life in a first-year residence hall, I had been walking around the building with another Resident Assistant to promote an upcoming trip for the residents. That weekend, we were bringing students to an apple orchard for some festive apple picking. As we promoted this event, door to door, we handed out apple slices and chocolate dipping sauce. College students love free food and I thought this was a genius idea. What I did not know is that this delicious idea would be my demise.
After having rounded out another door to door promotion on a floor of the building, we headed into the stairwell to descend to the next floor. The other RA with me had the dipping sauce in his hands while I had a bowl of apple slices with me. However, I was holding my cane in one hand while palming the bowl in another. As I stepped forward onto the first step, I felt my hand let go of my cane and I quickly went to grab it before it fell down the stairs. The cane had already traveled quite a ways from my hand and I felt myself lean more forward to grab it. Then, I lost my balance and started to fall forward. Since I had the bowl of apple slice in the other hand, I was not able to grab onto the opposite railing. Before I knew it, I was flying through the air.
I must have traveled through the air and soared over about 10 stairs, as I then landed on my right side and experienced a combination of tumbling and sliding down the remaining 10 stairs until I hit the concrete platform at the bottom. It is a complicated story, but at that time I did not have health insurance. The first thing I said to my RA was “do not call 911, I don’t have health insurance”. After taking a moment to catch my breath and sense if anything was broken, I slowly rose from the floor and gripped the wall. My right arm and back were in pain, but my right leg was what had taken most of the beating. I could barely walk on it and I was bleeding from just below my knee cap. I stumbled back to my apartment in the hall and called my exgirlfriend. I was very blunt and immediately told her that I had fallen down a flight of stairs. Shamelessly, I asked her if she had any alcohol and she brought over a bit of rum, along with some medical supplies.
The cut on my leg was very narrow, but very deep. Looking back on that night, I probably would have benefited from a few stiches. I spent all of that night and the very next day laying in my bed. I became good friends with a bag of ice, kept changing some bandages on my leg and was a bit worried about the colors this deep cut was turning into. Although I could not walk at all for the next 36 hours, I managed to only sustain a deep cut, some scrapes and a good bit of terrible swelling and bruising. My face and head had not been touched during the fall of 2009 and who knows how bad this all would have been if my head had made contact with the concrete platform at the bottom of those stairs. Cutting up apples has never been the same since that night.
I have gotten hurt many times in my life, but I have always been fortunate enough to have never been seriously injured. Even with my marathon training, the worst of my injuries have been a spraigned ankle (which still greatly impacts your running) and built up scar tissue from excessive running. There are many people who have torn ligaments, broken bones and have encountered injuries which have extensively impacted their ability to run.
Ultimately, I have walked through life unscathed. I was sharing this fact with a friend of mine and I told her that I am somewhat like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. In this movie, he plays a comic book character who supposedly has the ability to never get seriously hurt or killed. He does get injured, but he walks away from dangerous situations with relatively little harm done to him. So, yes. I am Bruce Willis. I even have a great beard and a receding hairline to pull this all off. I strongly wish for this grace to continue as I venture forth in this journey of marathon running. Hopefully, my drive, stamina and Bruce Willis-like qualities keep me going for years to come. Yes, I will say it. I die hard.
Like I have stated before, I would have stopped doing this a long time ago if I was only doing it for myself. Marathon training is demanding and exhausting on a physical and mental level. Many people have asked me what I believe is the most challenging part about doing all of this. Many things are challenging, but I would say that the tole all of this takes on my body is one of the most exhausting pieces to this journey.
Until I lose enough fat off my thighs, I typically develop a rash from engaging in long runs. When I start focusing on a marathon, some of the first few long runs result in a raw rash on my thighs. Continue reading
The definition of this word, in my opinion, is very relative. It can vary by country, culture and individual. As endless are the variations of human features, so are the examples of what is a beautiful person. However, there are many messages and values that attempt to dictate what is most beautiful and desirable. This emphasis on a narrow and selective vision for claiming who is most beautiful is harmful and it is out there; straight hair, big boobs, slim build, big muscles, light skin and so many other traits are held with praise over others. At the same time, some have tried to drive culture away from this definition by stating that those with the aforementioned traits are not attractive, or are not what “real” beauty is. Continue reading
As I oblivious as I was to running technique and training skills, I was just as oblivious to understanding what appropriate running gear is. I simply thought a lite shirt, mesh shorts and sneakers were the way to go. Those things worked out at first, but only at first. What you wear is very important and can really impact the quality of your running, as well as the comfort and safety.
Mesh shorts are great to wear for when I am lifting and am not doing long periods of cardiovascular exercise which produces a great amount of sweat. I recall one of my first long runs on the track in my home town being very challenging. I had lost around 15 pounds and was putting in a 10 mile run. Continue reading
The marathon is about three and a half months away from now and I still have something very important to figure out: who my guide is going to be. This is a very important part of the marathon. This is not simply about finding someone who will do something for me. Rather, it is about finding someone who will be something with me. The mission I have is only successful as a partnership and that is exactly what I see my guide runners as. We are partners, we put in equal effort and have as much invested as the other. Most importantly, there is mutual respect for one another. Continue reading
I have been reflecting on what has been posted on this blog. There is much about perspective, successes in culture and challenges in culture towards disability as well. I have written about the feelings I experience when I run and what this has meant for others. Many powerful and important topics have been covered on this blog and in my outreach. On the other hand, I have neglected to write about something that is not only important, but inevitable to experience in my life and others who are in a similar situation as myself. That experience is the feeling of realizing when your vision has further dwindled… the feeling of knowing that something just happened that never would have happened in the past. The feeling of telling yourself it was just a random accident and that you were spacing out. Continue reading
I have a wonderful job at Berklee College of Music and every October, my office brings a group of students into the woods of New Hampshire to discuss and explore identity, privilege, oppression and social change. It is an incredible experience for both the students and the facilitators. We utilize a space called the Sargent Center, which is actually owned and operated by Boston University. It is located on a dirt road in the small town of Hancock. It is much like where I grew up, in Barnstead, New Hampshire.
A new colleague, friend and fellow running enthusiast came on the trip as a facilitator. She had mentioned that she was training for her first 5k. I told her that it would be great to run together around the grounds, as there is an extensive dirt road around the center of the facility that I believe stretches just over 1 mile. Fortunately, she liked the idea and we both brought our running gear. Continue reading
I had a whole other post ready to be put up today, but today was an interesting day and I felt inspired to write about something different. I have always found the train system in Boston to be fascinating. It is not fascinating because it can just about get me anywhere in the city, but because of the environment, the culture and the experiences I have been a part of over the last 3 years.
What I will say, is that I feel 95% of the people on the train are in their own little world. People do not really talk to one another (if they don’t already know the other person), rarely make observation or offer to those who may benefit more from a seat and when people do talk, you never know what you are going to over hear. I have heard political debates, people discuss sexual encounters and a few other scandalous things. It is either silent, or entertaining. Continue reading