A runner stands at the runner’s blocks waiting for the signal to take off. When the runner hears the signal, they find their stride, pace, and their movements fall into a rhythmic cadence. Their legs carry them a particular distance. They have developed and refined their skill through repetition. When they reach the finish line, they have likely achieved a faster time, improved a specific skill, or accomplished a personal goal.
Every time I walk into the Fitness Center, I try to “gear up” and mentally prepare for the upcoming session. I sometimes wonder if I experience the same feelings as a runner in training. I have felt a sense of anticipation, nerves, and adrenaline. I have felt a sense of readiness but may not have the skills yet to advance toward the next step of walking device-free. I had to learn how my upper body connected to my lower body. I had to learn to stand tall.
Like the runner in training, I learned to climb hills, learned various maneuvers and drills. Like the runner in training, I navigated through more than one injury, and have also had false starts, falls, and many occasions where the “run” needed to be done again.
I had to learn three core principles which became a mantra: “First, posture, then stability, leads to improved mobility.” Posture defined in the broadest terms means standing tall. In my case, stability means literally learning to stand on both of my feet without walking aids. Improved mobility means that I am gaining skills that I need to walk without devices, but in a larger sense it means expanding my opportunities, expectations, and reaching a little farther and a little higher.
Most people regardless of having a disability want to reach their “highest level”. They do not want to have fewer opportunities. They do not want to settle for average or less. A runner in training is not going to settle for “middle- of- the road” running skills or an average time. They train to improve their skills or running time.
There are points when running is harder compared to others; but the runner will eventually find their rhythm and cadence. There have been a number of times when I have fallen and have not reached a goal. Yet, like the runner in training, I have had to revisit the principles of standing tall, finding my stride, and setting the pace. If I fall, I get up. There are times when getting up is harder. There are times when I need help to get up again, but I get up and try again and again until I achieve the goal or improve the skill. Settling for average is not a part of the equation.
My gains have come from the willingness to try and fall. My gains have also come from the willingness of other people (my trainers, physicians, etc.) to work with me to explore, try, and adapt strategies. They willingly engage with me in non-traditional methods; even though the initial outcome might be that I fall. The key is they respect my choice to try and fall.
I am learning to stand tall through this process. I have sought to challenge people to look at the notion of disability through a different lens. Now, I have a new call—refuse to settle for middle- of- the- road or average. When you fall, get up, and try again and again. Like the runner in training, reach for the highest level, the fastest time –whatever the goal, reach higher!
This article was originally published in the “Endless CapABILITIES Blog”, and National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, sponsored by The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (www.nchpad.org). NCHPAD is part of the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative and supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U59DD000906 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).