Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Question of Motivation...or Mediocrity?

 I do not run to inspire, but I do run an inspired life.
- RWB 7/15/2012

Jack and Me


Some years ago before I became an amputee I bought Jennifer a book to help motivate her through triathlon training. It was "Up and Running" by Jami Goldman. Later I would read the book myself in a different light, that as an amputee. As I've written many times on this blog and elsewhere, it is not possible to understand some things until you have become them. You will not know what it means to be blind unless you are sightless; you don't know the difficulties of a certain disability unless you have that disability. Some of us are born with missing limbs; others lose them in accidents or war; and some have damaged limbs removed when they become a source of pain and no longer are functional.

A Lifetime of Inspiration
My first sports hero was Glenn Cunningham and he remains a source of inspiration to this day. While I was hospitalized after the bus accident of 1963, a boy was brought into the hospital with burns over 70% of his body from a gasoline fire...I remember the most horrible screaming I have ever heard, screams of intolerable pain that this little boy was enduring. He would not survive.

Glenn did survive and I think I at least had an inkling of what he had to overcome just to walk. The fact he ran world records on what was absolutely minimal training by today's standards was, and is...inspiring.

This year I was fortunate to learn of the heroic Jason Pisano. Inspiring? Beyond words and possibility. Impossibility made irrelevant. He had the use of his left foot only and was able to complete 52 marathons. So yes, leave your whining and woe-is-me attitude at home. You can do more than you imagine but not with the heavy anchor of negativity around your neck.


When someone is disabled, be it by birth or circumstance, they remain a person, a human being. Their lives may or may not be more challenging than an able-bodied person. In many cases such as with amputees, there is a visual stimulus that may elicit a common response particularly in sport: they are inspirational.

There are other disabilities that are not as evident, in less severe CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth), CP (cerebral palsy), CF (cystic fibrosis) scoliosis, and others.  My sister-in-law Nancy has two titanium rods screwed into the length of her spine as a result of the latter. No one can see this without Superman's x-ray vision. Our friend Donna at first glance may not appear to be disabled in the least, yet a closer look at her feet and you may grimace. She has CMT. Ronnie writes that he has been "Blessed with Cystic Fibrosis and a positive attitude, it is my duty and passion to show the cystic fibrosis community that anything is possible."

All of these athletes have a far more difficult time being athletic than me, yet because my amputation is so viscerally apparent, it may be mistakenly thought of as the higher barrier to overcome. A well-designed prosthesis gives me back most of the mobility I lacked with the damaged anatomical foot with little of discomfort. I am slower but I have my freedom restored.

An article "We're not here for your inspiration" was recently published here decrying that "inspirational porn" (see pic at right) was being employed to guilt the able-bodied into thinking they don't have it so bad; why look at the poor crippled thing in a prosthesis hobbling along, if they can do it I need to get off my lazy bum and go for a run too! Ms. Young's main point seems to be that the disabled are not any more inherently inspirational than the able-bodied, that what is going on is exploitation on some level. That disabled people are no more or no less inspirational than anyone else.

Your excuse, is indeed, irrelevant.
She also goes on to make inaccurate statements like this, speaking of availability of running prostheses: "Those legs, for the record, cost upwards of $20,000 and are completely out of reach for most people with disabilities." The fact is yes, these are expensive specialized prosthetics but the feet themselves are surprising affordable at cost. However, if insurance or out-of-pocket costs are too high, there are many organizations like CAF and Achilles International who can and do help. Defeatism and a poor attitude would be the main barriers to these feet, not the cost. If you want to run you can.

 “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” -- Albert Einstein


I can speak from personal experience here. Before I even knew what the cost would be for me to run again - and I was going to run again - I was contacted on Twitter by a group who proposed a charity run to raise money for my prosthesis. My current leg was paid for by my insurance but I do know of other ways to obtain a running prosthesis if that was not an option. I can tell you a negative attitude would sink this ship on the spot. Wake up or go away you malcontents of personal despair and spiritual destruction.

Truly cynicism is cyanide to the spirit.

Every life is unique in this world; we are not a faceless community of cattle. That some are or become disabled is usually non-negotiable. You may not be able to control many elements of your life, but the person inside that is you, your attitude and spirit, is largely up to you. There is a choice to be made here, and I have always felt the one of negativity and criticism is the one to be avoided altogether. Run, run away from it.

It is possible that being a runner all of my life I have, pun intended, a leg up on understanding attitude. My early competitive days were generally spent near last place. What kept me from partaking of the sour grape vine? My love for running. First, last, or middle of the pack, I know not running is far worse for me. I never quit even when my broken body could go no further. There was a will. There was a way.


We know there are terrible disabilities that many humans endure. No science or mystical words will improve their lives. But I have never, ever seen where taking a negative tact resolved anything other than to dig a deeper hole....or to enhance someone's self-inflicted fatalism. A bad attitude goes nowhere but down. If you choose to go there, fine, but don't rip your claws into those trying to climb up and improve their lives.
I never intended to be an inspiration to anyone. Being a runner all of my life, the only thing I wanted to do for all my life was run. That people see me now and often speak of my running as "inspirational" is not a thing I intended to do, but having once been an able-bodied runner I understand the sentiment. I know this: if we disabled athletes inspire or motivate someone to be active, and especially our peers who can see what is possible - then it is not just a good thing. It is a great thing. Anyone who chooses to disparage this has a personal agenda they are tending too.

To call inspirational pictures of individuals with disabilities doing amazing things as "porn" disgusts me. Oh, I understand how the term is used, and if used in a positive way then so be it. But it is being used to denigrate efforts and accomplishments as I see it, and I detest that "opinion" so much so that I found it hard to write this post.

If someone does not care for motivational posters of the disabled, what is the purpose of making it a contentious issue? Why call it inspiration porn? The answer, as nearly always, lies within.


Here is my training partner, my inspiration for running the Boston Marathon next year. I never, ever lack for motivation anymore. I may be fatigued from a workout, but when I think of standing on that starting line in Hopkinton with my friends I am filled with such joy as to be overcome with emotion. I was told my running days were over and now I am going to run this legendary race.

What can't you do? Don't let them tell you, you show them what you can do. To those who think they can't, it's time to believe what you read.

"I run marathons not because I have Cerebral Palsy, but because I'm an athlete."

- Jason Pisano

No comments:

Post a Comment