The Triumph of the Human Spirit

Posted: March 28, 2010 in Random Ramblings

The composition question of Paper 1 in the English leaving cert, is worth 100 marks. I got about 66% in this question as well in my pres, I have to say I was devastated because I’ve done countless “personal essays” to perfect them for the big day of the leaving cert exam. I think though that the general opinion is that our examiner was on something when he/she was correcting our exams, let me know your verdict!

Let’s take a walk through the events of my life that have led up to this moment shall we? I don’t do much walking to be honest. I was born with a condition called Spina Bifida. It means I can never walk.
However, this is perhaps the only thing I can not do, although sky diving might be difficult as well. I have dreams, hopes, desires, the same as any other person. I am perhaps not the most stereotypical “disabled” or “differently enabled” person in any case and I would have to say, that I am on the favourable end of the disability spectrum. I go to mainstream schools, drive my own adapted car, for me, things could have been worse. I always felt that if I had had an intellectual disability or a mental illness that it would have infringed even more on my life.
I would also have to admit though that much of the fortune and success I have had in my life has been as a result of my own determination. However that determination would have meant nothing if not for the indomitable spirit of my parents and for the way my friends have always treated me the same as everyone else. To my family and friends, for this I am very grateful.
Believe it or not, in 1996, merely fourteen years ago, it was still an unusual occurrence to have a disabled child attend a mainstream school! When going in search of a school my parents were affronted with the following attitudes:
“Oh certainly not! We don’t accept ‘those children’ here!” and “Don’t ‘those’ children go to special schools?” I, at the age of five, would not be labelled as “those children” who go to “those schools” to lead “those lives”. I went along to the next meeting my parents had organised and this time I asked the head teacher for the grand tour of her school. Looking back on it now, I think she may have been shocked to hear I could speak, let alone be so forward! Needless to say I secured a place in this particular school.
Much of the life of a young boy focuses around sport. This could have been a problem for me. But no, it would not be a problem for the son of my parents! One of the biggest concerns for me growing up was that I could not play soccer. All the other boys could, so in my naivety I thought I should be able to as well! My determined parents did, however, find an alternative to the soccer I clearly could not play.
At the age of six I began to attend swimming lessons. Now this, I could do with all my friends and for years this pastime filled the void left by soccer. But I however, was not going to merely stop at swimming lessons, no, by the age of twelve, I had become a member of the Irish Paralympic Swimming Team! I had also taken up paralympic athletics at the age of eight and by thirteen I was on the national athletics team as well.
So here I was at about the age of thirteen of fourteen. The doctors had told my parents that I might never talk, never go to school, would certainly never play any sports. In rebuttal I had found my way into mainstream schools and was doing very well I might add,I was a member of not one but two national sporting teams and as for talking, My parents will tell you that from an early age I was already talking too much!
I suppose the worst affects of my disability have been as a result of other people’s attitudes. It has not been the fact that I can not walk or play soccer or skydive. It has been the ignorance I have been shown by those who do not understand me.
I guess that, because I am disabled myself, I look at people who are ‘different’ with a more positive outlook and perspective. For example, in transition year I decided to do volunteer work in a school for the deaf. Having also begun to learn sign language that year. I realised that the everyday problems a deaf person faces are caused bot by the disability itself but by the fact that many people can not understand sign language. I have always tried to show other people that they can react with me the same way they do with everyone else. It is people’s ignorance, when they treat me as a “special case” that affects me the most.
Imagine this, i was once scheduled for a routine operation in hospital. I am a complete belonephobe, that is to say I have an abject fear of needles. You can imagine my terror then as the anaesthetist loomed over me with a large syringe. The moment was only exacerbated when he asked “Do you play much soccer?” He hadn’t noticed the wheelchair parked beside my hospital bed!
Despite the ignorance and low expectations I have been shown, even by doctors, I will my do my leaving cert like any other sixth year student this year. I have the high hopes of becoming a doctor or psychologist myself. Because of all this, I would hope to think that I have triumphed over my circumstances.

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