Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Disabled Athletes on Video: What's in it for Us?

Message for middle school assembly.

On the YouTube screen of your mind, imagine photos of a smiling child.  Words flash on the screen against a dark background, and tell us about some disability or accident.  Next we see images of the child learning to overcome the disability. 

We've all seen these kinds of videos.  If we'd been meeting today where we could use a screen, Omar wanted to show us the one of the disabled team manager who shot three three-pointers in the last seconds of his last game.  Some of my students have written plays and stories based on the story of Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lost an arm in a shark encounter. 

When all the friends who supported the athletes are cheering and hugging them, these films make us say "awww."  They may even bring tears to our eyes.

But most of us watching those videos aren't disabled.  None of us wants to be.

So why are these videos so popular?  What do they have to show students who aren't disabled?

I asked Brad Brown, long-time athlete and coach who heads our school's admissions department. He guesses that we love the videos because they display in a physical way, the qualities of grit and determination.

Watching these, each of us thinks privately, "If I were disabled, I hope I'd have that same kind of attitude and will power."

But every day presents us with the chance to show that same kind of grit and determination, only not in a way that would look very exciting on screen.  In Mrs. Whitehead's math class, you show it by not giving up on a problem after the first try.  In my class, it's unfolding the paper you crumpled up to try one more way to express your idea.  Mr. Brown reminded me of our volleyball team last week, digging in when they were down in the score and opposed by a home-team crowd to win.

You don't have to be disabled to feel unable; and you have a chance every day to show how you won't give up -- or to encourage someone else to keep going -- even if it doesn't make it onto YouTube.

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