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Running (as well as other sports) with Disabilities

April 14, 2011

In high school I ran pretty much everyday. I still try to run as much as possible, but it’s harder as everyone on here well knows due to the loads of homework and assignments given to us here in college. Anyways, a few weeks ago when we discussed Professor LaVaque-Manty’s paper “Being a Women and Other Disabilities” it came to my attention a video clip had I seen. The video clip is of a disabled man that jumps a massive gap, in his wheelchair! (skip to 30 seconds for the actual jump)


This is where I feel that disabled people really aren’t that inhibited to doing sports. After I had watched this video a new appreciation for physically disabled people and sports developed for me.

Another point in Professor LaVaque-Manty’s paper that I really resonated with is the section about how the wheelchair participants weren’t getting equal treatment in the New York City Marathon. Having run the Chicago Marathon and seeing the wheelchair athletes it surprised me that they were even considered to be inferior to the actual runners. In the 2009 Chicago Marathon the 1st place wheelchair participant (Heinz Frei) came in with a time of 1:26:56 for the full marathon.  The first place runner (Sammy Wanjiru) came in with a time of 2:06:24 for the full marathon. The wheelchair participant beat the runner buy 40 minuets! Right there is proof enough that just cause you have a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t compete.

Diane Van Deren is another great example of some one who is disable that rises above the rest even though she is disabled, and even * gasp * a women. Having always ran with my mom, I have the utmost respect for women in sports. There are plenty of girls who can match and sometimes even out play men if sports. But, back to Diane Van Deren; After reading the bio at the bottom on Diane I believe that other people should as well feel that women can compete in sports even with men. Diane is an ultra-marathoner. This means that she runs races that are 100+ miles. What makes Diane Van Deren “disabled” though is that she had had epilepsy, and then underwent brain surgery to fix the problem. The part of her brain that they removed also happened to be the part that lets a person tell how much time has passed. So, long story short, Diane Van Deren can’t tell how much time has passed. This is why on her 100 mile runs that take roughly 14-20 hours she doesn’t feel like that much time has passed. This comes to a great advantage for her. Since she can’t tell time, she just keeps running, and running, and running. Usually placing her in the top 5 of most races.

So I would like to know your opinions, do you think that by having a disability that gives you an advantage you are still a “disabled” athlete, or should you be considered as a normal athlete just with an advantage?

I used ideas for the documentary http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=6239758 on Diane Van Deren if you wish to watch it.

Diane Van Deren Bio: http://www2.thenorthface.com/na/athletes/athletes-DVD.html

Other sources on Chicago Marathon: http://results.active.com/pages/searchform.jsp?rsID=102291

4 Comments
  1. lernerm permalink
    April 14, 2011 9:18 PM

    Great post, Shane.

    I think that its too difficult to group all disabilities together. Advantages due to disability are better understood on more of a case by case basis. For example, having legs or not in a sport like sled hockey makes no difference at all. But in a sport like diving, having natural legs is important to get the proper spin and rotation.

    Dealing with a disability also depends on the person’s financial situation. Someone with enough money to buy the highest quality artificial limb available might not feel disadvantaged when compared to people with natural legs (Think of Aimee Mullins’ TED talk). However, someone without the money to buy such an expensive prosthetic would feel that they are at a disadvantage.

    Diane Van Deren is, in the context of ultramarathons, at least, is fortunate to have a disability that she can turn into an advantage. Unfortunately, there are many more people whose lives are hamstrung by disability than there are those who are advantaged.

  2. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    April 14, 2011 11:05 PM

    This was a very cool and informative post. When watching the video of the wheelchair jump, I was reminded of both the X-Games and the Mullins speech that we watched in lecture. In the speech, Mullins talked about how people became jealous of her new legs, and the fact that she could change her height at will. Her friends didn’t think that was fair, even though they were not disabled. I was sort of thinking along the same lines when I watched that guy pull off that flip. Wheelchair or not, that was an epic jump. I may not be jealous of his disability, but for a moment I wished I was him flying through the air.

  3. micahfr permalink
    April 15, 2011 12:34 AM

    This was a very interesting post to think about. To answer the question at the end of the post: in my opinion, having a disability that may give you an advantage means that you are no longer disabled, at least when it comes to sports. If I were to have some disadvantage that makes my arm very strong, so I could throw a baseball faster, then I should be able to, and ought to, play in the MLB. The ultra-marathon runner’s situation, however, actually gives her an unfair disadvantage. What if other marathon runners started to lobotomize that same part of their brains? Is that fair? The situation has some parallels to steroid use in baseball. So, as a general rule should people with a disability be allowed to compete against “able bodied” competitors, regardless of whether or not their disadvantage may turn out to be an advantage? Competitive divisions are meant to equalize the playing field based on physical assets. So, in my opinion, people with “disabilities” should have to compete in their own divisions, just as women and men do in most sports.

  4. Adam Evanski permalink
    April 15, 2011 1:43 PM

    First off that was probably one of the coolest stunts/tricks I have ever seen pulled off on YouTube. It really does show how much disabled people can compete and pull off with enough practice and determination. In the end though I think having a disability does not give you an advantage. For example think of how hard it must be for this guy to practice his flips, and even travel to places with ramps this big? I think disabled athletes fall into their own category, because some of the things they do are exclusive only to them. While I do not agree with your post about the marathon times and the disabled athlete finishing 40 minutes ahead, this was due to an advantage. This is not to say that it’s not an incredible feat, just that it should be classified accordingly and still celebrated equally!

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