Exclusive: Jon Bateman Interview Extras

In early April I interviewed Calgary Sledge Hockey Association (CSHA) President Jon Bateman (@yyc_jon on Twitter) for The Mobility Resource (TMR). Jon and I enjoyed an engaging conversation, so much I couldn’t fit all I wanted into the TMR piece.  That article “An Interview with Calgary Sledge Hockey Association President Jon Bateman” hit the cyberspace waves on my birthday, Monday, April 22nd. Today I will share those extra insights which failed to call The Mobility Resource home.

As discussed within The Mobility Resource article under the sub headline “The Term ‘Adaptive Sports’,” both people with and without disabilities can play adaptive sports. In addition to creating a new appreciation for those living with disabilities, this establishes bonding opportunities. Bateman notes, “One of the things I really love about sledge hockey is if you have a brother or a sibling they can get out and play the game with you. That is a really important thing in families and in relationships between people with disabilities and those close to them.” He explains,

“A lot of how we relate to one another is through shared experience. Sport gives that to siblings of people with disabilities and those without. Friends too.”

I can certainly speak to the aforementioned notion’s credibility. While I personally do not play adaptive sports, I am active with friends. In my third Life of the Differently Abled guest post, “Eliminating Disability Related Social Anxiety,” I share how hiking in North Carolina brought me closer to my friends Sheila, Mike, and Tim.

Anyways back to my Jon Bateman interview. Another topic Jon talks about involved his master’s degree pursuit, specifically his recently completed practicum report. “I put forth the idea if you’re involved in an adaptive sport as a person with a disability, are you then more likely to volunteer in the community? Or, are you more likely to vote? Or, are you more likely to seek paid employment?”

Calgary Scorpions

The Calgary Scorpions, Jon Bateman’s sledge hockey team.

Jon suggests yes, saying “My opinion being President of the association and all the years I’ve been involved (in sledge hockey) I really think if you are involved in adaptive sport, you really are more likely doing things in the community.” Still, he stresses the need for more research into the subject matter.

Yet what remains evident from Jon’s comments and experiences, the ability to build friendships through adaptive sports. “It’s been 16 years since I started and I would say there are at least five to 10 people who have been my teammates during that whole time. We’ve grown quite a bit since then but they really are close friends now.”

        

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Exclusive: Brent Poppen Interview Extras

Last month I enjoyed the opportunity to interview Paralympian and fellow author Brent Poppen (@booksbybrent) for The Mobility Resource (TMR). Poppen proved an interviewer’s ideal subject, thoroughly answering questions in great detail. In fact he provided so much wonderful insight, I decided to split my TMR article into two parts (links below).

Part One: “Paralympian Showing There’s ‘Life After Disability'”
Part Two: “Discussing Disability Awareness with Author Brent Poppen” 

Even while extending the published piece into two parts, I didn’t get to share everything I wanted which leads us to today’s exclusive interview extras post. However before I proceed, I wish to mention The Mobility Resource’s book giveaway. You can enter to win either a SIGNED copy of Brent Poppen’s autobiography Tragedy on the Mountain A Quadriplegic’s Journey from Paralysis to Paralympics or his kid’s book Playground Lessons: Friendship & Forgiveness: Harley and His Wheelchair. Here are the rules.

Tragedy on the Mountain by Brent Poppen

Follow The Mobility Resource on Twitter (@SweetMobility) and tweet #PoppenAutobiography to enter to win Poppen’s autobiography, SIGNED!!!

1. Follow The Mobility Resource on Twitter at @SweetMobility
2. Tweet @SweetMobility letting us know what book you want to win, using hashtag #PoppenAutobiography or #PoppenKidBook
3. On Friday, January 4th, 2013 TMR will select two random winners for each book.

Moving on, the first part to my TMR Brent Poppen interview features the athlete talking about his journey from newly disabled to Paralympian. Something the word count prevented me from incorporating includes a reoccurring debate amongst Paralympians. Poppen explained, “There’s a lot of athletes born with disabilities and a lot of athletes who have disabilities later in life, like myself, and we always have that discussion. What is harder?”

He continued, “Is it harder to be born with a disability like CP or something where you never get the chance to compete in able-bodied sports? You never get to tackle someone in football, or pitch in baseball from a mound. Or, you know play able-bodied basketball or stand on a surfboard. Or, is it better to at least have that like myself for 15 years and then have that snatched from you?” Overall Poppen admitted, “I don’t have the answer to that but it’s something we debate a lot.”

The other story I plan to reveal in this special Off Balanced blog post corresponds with my second TMR Brent Poppen article. Regarding his work in schools, Poppen recalled one specific experience following a two-day, 10-assembly series. “At the end of the second day a third grader came up to me when we were the only ones left in the room. He came up to me, shook my hand, and said, ‘Mr. Poppen I acknowledge that last year I was a bully and after you being here and hearing your program I’m going to choose to not be a bully anymore.’”

Instances such as the aforementioned keeps Poppen motivated to work with kids. He noted, “That kid can affect 10 or 20 kids at his school and that is going to just spiderweb out.” Brent Poppen’s books can create a similar affect. So, to wrap up let me take a minute and encourage you to enter The Mobility Resource’s book giveaway. Who knows, you could start 2013 off right by winning a signed copy of Tragedy on the Mountain A Quadriplegic’s Journey from Paralysis to Paralympics or Playground Lessons: Friendship & Forgiveness: Harley and His Wheelchair.

Creating an Inclusive Little League Environment

If you regularly checkout my blog here or read my book Off Balanced, you know I possess a great passion for baseball. As a result I naturally enjoy news stories about inclusion on little league teams. I came across one such story last week. New York NBC Channel 4 News reported on 12-year old Evan Sussman who despite not actually playing on the field remains a member of the Brewster Little League team.

Sussman, like his teammates, suits up for every game. Sussman, like his teammates, sits in the dugout. Sussman, like his teammates, contributes. Sure, the 12-year old doesn’t field balls or step into the batter’s box. Instead Evan Sussman contributes to the team atmosphere with his spirit. Sadly, rules and regulations recently threatened the Brewster team’s inclusive atmosphere.

According to the rulebook a player must play 60% of the games to become eligible to sit inside the dugout. Since Sussman didn’t literally play, his presence supposedly presents a liability. I voiced my personal frustration with the rule via the following tweet.

A tweet voicing my frustration.

I tweeted my frustration with the Sussman story July 24.

Frustration appeared a common response to the  news story and two days later I discovered a followup report about Sussman completed by ABC 7 News. Thankfully those who regulate the little league organization decided to grant Sussman and the Brewster Little League team an exemption to the previously mentioned rule. In other words Evan Sussman rejoined his teammates inside the dugout , returning everything back to Brewster’s normal inclusive way.

 

Personality Profile: DJ Gregory

Over the past few years I’ve learned about various individuals with cerebral palsy whose stories help inspire me to keep pursuing my own ambitions. The first inspirational injection came in late 2009 before I even setup a Google Alerts email for the term “cerebral palsy.” My aunt forwarded  me the following video:

What do you think? I’m not a golf fan but DJ Gregory’s story still grabbed my attention because I could relate to so many of the things discussed in the video. Since eight years old I’ve held  a passion for baseball but I never played Little League at my parents’ request. If you’ve read my book Off Balanced, you know why. 🙂

Anyways, I empathize with Gregory’s love for sports but inability to play them. While I’m not into golf, I do enjoy the opportunity to play ping pong or go bowling. However, I’d describe my skill level at these activities the same way DJ describes his golf game, “It sucks.” Still, just participating in physical activity provides certain fulfillment.

Bowling balls at a bowling ally

I went bowling last year on my birthday and my highest score was 45. The alcohol in my system might have helped contribute to my low scores though. 😉

Moving on I became further impressed with DJ Gregory when my Google Alerts “cerebral palsy” emails brought the golfer’s disability advocacy efforts to my attention. In 2009 Gregory started the Walking for Kids charity. His charity aims to raise funds for different children’s activities. For instance DJ Gregory donated $26,000 to Ability First, a sports camp for kids with disabilities. For details on Walking for Kids visit www.walkingforkids.org.

Finally, you’ll notice on the walkingforkids.org website DJ Gregory, like me, is a published author. I have not read Gregory’s book Walking with Friends but out of eight Amazon customer reviews the book averages four stars out of five. Walking with Friends details Gregory’s adventures on the PGA Tour.

Debunking Misconceptions: Athletes with Disabilities Can’t Have Talent

A few days ago I read this story from The Sacramento Bee, “Disabled Student Sues to Play High School Baseball.” The story talks about high school student David Barker suing his high school so he can play junior varsity baseball. According to the article Barker is deaf and has cerebral palsy but has played baseball since he was nine years old, including playing for his school’s freshman baseball team. Yet school officials informed David he couldn’t play at the junior varsity level. The following reader comment from tobeetobee really grabbed my attention and motivated today’s post-

“Yeah right…like every student gets to be on the team because they want to be on it…”

Two other readers liked this comment. Personally the statement disturbs me because the thinking infers athletes with disabilities can’t have talent. To anyone who wants to argue with me I can make a strong case with one name, Jim Abbott. Are you getting ready to ask, “Who is Jim Abbott?” Let me waste no time on educating you. Jim Abbott pitched in the major leagues from 1989 to 1999, compiling a career 87-108 record and 4.25 ERA.   He finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in his initial major league season and placed third in the AL Cy Young Award voting during the 1991 season. (Click here for more statistics) Jim Abbott accomplished all this despite being born with a deformed right arm. Rick Swaine describes the deformity on behalf of Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

“Abbott’s right arm ends about where his wrist should be. He doesn’t have a right hand, just a loose flap of skin at the end of his underdeveloped arm.”

Jim Abbott

Born without a right hand retired MLB pitcher Jim Abbott defied possibilities. Photo: Paul Morse/Wikimedia Commons

Reading Swaine’s SABR biography on Jim Abbott reveals Abbott enjoyed success on every level of baseball he played despite skepticism surfacing Abbott would become outmatched by his competition. A decade in the majors goes to show the skeptics wrong. Now, I’ll admit majority of athletes with disabilities will likely fail to rival Abbott’s talent but the least we can do as a society is give athletes with disabilities the opportunity to fail. So to bring this post full circle, I hope we can judge David Barker by his skills as a baseball player and not the label “disabled athlete.”

 

 

Debunking Misconceptions: Paralympics/Special Olympics Confusion

Today I wish to discuss  a misconception of sorts which I came across the past couple months covering the Olympic beat for Yahoo! Sports. Perhaps SOCCERNATION.com’s Stephen Prendergast sums up this topic best when  he wrote in a recent article about the US Paralympic Team, “Many people confuse the Paralympic Games with the Special Olympics, but the two are quite different.” The Special Olympics website provides a helpful guide examining the differences, “Special Olympics and Paralympics: What’s the Difference?”

For your convenience I’ll highlight the main points, at least  as I see them. The Special Olympics contain a welcoming philosophy based  on participation. Eligibility requires “athletes must have an intellectual disability; a cognitive delay, or a development disability.” Those eight years of age  and older can partake. The Paralympics  prove more intense, requiring athletes to meet certain qualifying standards just like the Summer and  Winter Olympics. Basically only the elite disabled athletes compete at the Paralympiccs.

The Paralympic Flag

The Paralympic Flag waves proudly in the air. Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Scazon

I stumbled across the Paralympic topic after my good friend 2012 U.S. Olympic hopeful (in race-walking) Michael Mannozzi suggest I  interview Paralympic swimmer Daniel Kamber for an article. Kamber represented the United States at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece and hopes to do the same this time around in London, England. Learn all about Daniel Kamber with my article “Introducing 2012  Paralympic Hopeful Daniel Kamber.” In order to create interview questions for Kamber I needed to research specifics about the Paralympics and that’s when I became wowed  by the Paralympics’ intensity. I wrote “A Closer Look: The Paralympic Movement” for Yahoo! Sports in hopes to raise awareness about the Games. Please do your part and pass along the article to your friends and family. (Thanks! :))

All in all I feel spreading the word about the Paralympics  serves as an important task. People in the disability community need to know not only can you participate in sports, you can excel in them. Overall athletics offers a  great opportunity for comradery, something as my book Off Balanced (quick plug ;)) illustrates can be difficult for individuals with disabilities to obtain.

Debunking Misconceptions: The Disabled are Physically Helpless

Welcome back to Off Balanced! This past weekend in my introductory post (read here) I spoke about my plans for this blog. To help keep my posts organized I’ve decided for at least the foreseeable future to preface my posts with one of three categories: Debunking Misconceptions, Personality Profile, and Book News. Each topic seems self-explanatory so without further ado I wish to get into the meat of today’s post.

Recently SI.com’s Dan Greene highlighted independent professional wrestler Gregory Iron in an article titled “Gregory Iron, The Handicapped Hero, Chases  His Wrestling Dreams.” The wrestler dubbed “The Handicapped Hero” has a case of cerebral palsy which affects his right arm. Early on in the piece I became tempted to forgo reading the rest of the article due to the following sentence-

“If he (Iron) tucks his right arm at his side or obscures it from view, you’d never guess that there’s anything disabled about the upbeat kid whose pectoral muscles stretch his T-shirt”

Whether Greene meant to or not, with the above he endorses the stereotype people with disabilities can’t be physically fit. Now I don’t want this to come across as me picking on Greene because the truth is overall the mainstream media views disabilities negatively. When Gregory Iron appeared on Fox & Friends Weekend (see video) the host basically asked “The Handicapped Hero” what kept Iron from allowing his disability to influence him to give up on life. Such a question provides the allusion having a disability means  facing insurmountable challenges.  The truth however reveals a disability to be just another problem to tackle. Everyone in life encounters difficulties so in a way everyone has handicaps.

Now to be completely  honest the misconception people with disabilities are physically helpless bleeds over internally to the disabled community. Last year around this time a healthcare company contracted me to write a series of articles about living with spinal cord injuries. I worried about how many articles I could actually produce because I imagined severe disabilities involving being paralyzed to some degree to create a very restrictive lifestyle. However, a little research really opened my eyes. I learned a lot about adaptive sports especially, even finding myself staring at my computer screen awestruck watching the intensity adaptive sports like sled hockey and wheelchair rugby bring out.

Sled Hockey

Sled hockey competition from the 2010 Paralympics Photo: Wikimedia Commons user popejon2

I’m not the only one though to underestimate the abilities of my disabled peers. Let’s go back once again to “The Handicapped  Hero” Gregory Iron who I interviewed this past summer for my Yahoo! Contributor Network article “Inspirational Profile: Gregory Iron.” Iron explained to me growing up he knew he wanted to work in the wrestling industry but didn’t consider in-ring action a possibility until he saw one legged wrestler Zach Gowen on WWE television. Zach Gowen inspired “The Handicapped Hero” to reach beyond the misconception the disabled are physically helpless.

If asked to speculate  on why able-bodied individuals and their disabled kin believe the physically helpless misconception, I’d venture to say the negative stigma stems from how mainstream media perceives disabilities. Yet thanks to the Internet and social media we all possess the power to debunk this misconception. If we all just tweeted or posted one disability orientated athletic story a day, we can show everyone people with disabilities can be stacked and jacked just like able-bodied individuals.