guest post!: i am sam

Sam and I sitting on the floor practicing [my] shot put form.Sam and I met one day in the Accessibility Resource Centre last Winter (because it took until my fifth year of university to identify as a student with a disability, and then make a bunch of friends in the ARC). Not long later, a shot put lesson possibly happened on the floor one afternoon [see picture]. Another day, we went to the gym, where (God knows why) Sam had me chucking a medicine ball at him repeatedly while I did bosu supermans and yes 97% of these throws non-intentionally hit him in the man parts. I’m not even trying to make myself sound nice with the non-intentionality because seriously, I am not good at accuracy. Also one day we explored Toys R Us, then a thrift store, to find a stuffed pig to make him fly.

Like so:

Anyways, there’s my back story [stories?] about Sam.

Now it’s his turn to tell you his own story–many aspects which he and I have parallel views on even if we didn’t know it yet. Thanks, Sam!

———-

I am Sam. Sam I am – without the joys of green eggs and ham.

I was born in 1990 with Myelomeningocele – commonly referred to as Spina Bifida. Medically speaking, it is a defect in my spine that has rendered my legs rather useless, and has left me confined to a wheelchair. However, thanks to my parents and my upbringing, my wheelchair was rather invisible to me until Junior High School when social classes become more important.

While my preamble makes disability sound like a horrible thing, it actually has taught me some important life lessons that simply cannot be taught by another person. These lessons include the power of sport, the importance of community, the strength of advocacy, and patience.

The first lesson is advocacy. This lesson is two-fold; one for knowing how to advocate for your person and the other is to advocate for a better life. While they seem all the same, the later is to advocate for a society that benefits all. Advocacy and patience goes hand in hand because while you know what’s needed to change for full inclusion of all members of society, you consciously know it isn’t going to happen today, or tomorrow, or this year. It’s hard to advocate for change when you can’t see it, but it remains an important feat as change wouldn’t occur without those efforts. The advocacy for one’s person though is a more gratifying form, as results are generally seen and noticeable. While becoming a product of Child and Family Services in my late teen years – I learn this lesson rather quickly. There, a system, which is designed for my protection, was attempting to charge me, a paraplegic from the waist down, with assault for kicking someone. Clearly, I couldn’t let this pass by.

Patience is another thing that I’ve learned, and although a lot of it is learned through advocating for better accessibility, the other aspects in life that have required it is in health and in love. Medically, things don’t always go according to plan – and usually, it is just out of your control. Love is the same way. It takes a special person to accept a disability and to love the individual for who they are. Society is too caught up with the media-influenced attributes and preference isn’t given to the person for who they are. And although this special person comes along, you still need to be patient with them as it takes time for them to learn and to understand – and that time we generally undervalue.

Sport is another huge part as it gives a person with a disability an opportunity to tangibly achieve something that is comparative to their able-bodied counterparts. Athleticism is a measurable attribute, however, the comradery that comes with disabled sport is equally important. Here, there is a community that is entrenched, and willing to support you in many ways. You are now one in the same, and that is incredibly powerful.

We often look at the negatives of disability – the what we can’t do, or the what ifs, or the what it could’ve been. However, looking through a lens of how disability can shape an individual is an intriguing perspective. Here, lessons of love, understanding, caring, comradery, patience, can embody these people. However, the comprehensive understanding of these lessons doesn’t make an individual exceptional – but instead, just simply shows the desire to have a good life. Disabled or not, we embody and share those desires. I share these lessons because disability isn’t just negative – it has become a part of my identity. Without my disability, I am not sure if I would be as humble as I am today, or if I would be as accepting of people who face comparable adversities.

So when you see Sam I Am wheeling down the street, pushing with all his might with groceries in tow – just remember, they are just as heavy sitting down as they are standing up.

———-

Sam is a business administration student about to complete his final year in his degree. Sam can occasionally be found singing and playing the piano in front of downtown Winnipeg establishments while waiting for the bus [except not now because they removed most of them. The pianos, I mean], but more often right now you’ll find him with a tennis racket. Sam is a multi-sport athlete (it’s a long list, but let’s just say he’s working at getting me out for wheelchair tennis, basketball and para-athletics. And I’m sure sledge hockey when the city freezes over again), and is active in promoting wheelchair sport to the community.

You can connect with Sam on Twitter at @samunrau–and, Sam has just started a blog so new that nothing is really on there, so you should probably go Roll Along With Sam–even if a suspenseful ride at present!

book review: a different kind of cheerleader

There are a few things I have opinions on—a lot of the time I just shut up, but sometimes I get argumentative, and sometimes I get argumentative about my opinions with people on Twitter. We are usually quite civil about it, but this is the first time I ended up reviewing a book out of the scenario. I connected with author Lira Brannon last week—connected is a nice term, in retrospect, I did interrogate her a bit about the “inspirational” nature of her book A Different Kind of Cheerleader, and the type of “inspirational”-ism that was implied, as the book is both centred around disability and Christianity. As I said on Twitter, “Disability isn’t inspiration: it’s life”. Lira, however, dealt with my interrogation well, and when I asked if I could receive an electronic copy of the book for free in exchange for a review on my blog, she agreed and quickly hooked me up with a Kindle download code.

Trigger warning: The later aspects of this review mention self-harm and suicide.

Three-sentence summary: 
The main character, Tansy, is a thirteen-year-old with a spinal cord injury [SCI] from a skateboarding accident in her childhood. Now a paraplegic, Tansy has all but abandoned the dream she and her best friend share of successfully qualifying for their junior-high cheerleading squad. As she starts junior high, she is introduced to a variety of new people who change her perceptions about what she believes she is capable of—and what she thinks about God, and who she was created to be, and to become.

Target age:
I’d throw this one in the 10 to 15 age-range—but, I personally enjoy teen fiction, so go with what works for you/the kid you’re trying to buy a book for.

Thoughts:
Overall, while the core aspects of the plot were fairly predictable, there were enough twists in the core of it to keep me interested and guessing—I started reading the book late Thursday evening, kept going until 1:30 AM, and finished it off the next morning [and people, my Concerta would have worn off at 11:30 or so—it was the book keeping me going].

While the core aspects of the book include Tansy’s desire to become a cheerleader independent of her disability, the author paints a very clear picture of the rest of Tansy’s life: starting at a new school and dealing with how her teachers respond to a student using a wheelchair (i.e. the typical ‘I can’t walk, but I can hear’); Tansy’s feelings towards her disability (anger, resentment, and eventually acceptance); responding to how her friends perceive her disability; relationships with her mother, brother, friends, physical therapist; and how her SCI and using a wheelchair pose additional contemplations within the already complicated life of an adolescent trying to figure out her place in the world.

Though I slated the book for younger ages, there are some themes including self-injury, attempted suicide, and suicidal ideation present in the book that may be more suitable for slightly older readers. The mentions of these aspects are brief, however, they were a source of confusion for me as I didn’t think there was enough detail preceding or explaining the circumstances in which Tansy’s acquaintance from rehab, Meg, was hospitalized following a suicide attempt (this may require a re-read on my part). While not comorbid, I appreciated that the author intentionally mentioned the mental health aspects associated with living with a disability and/or following a traumatic injury.

The storyline brings Tansy to interact with a variety of people who become a part of the bigger story unfolding—pressures from different people lead her different directions: some into finding the confidence to try out for cheer, others who cross her path in unexpected ways that help teach her about God—and through these conversations, more about the people around her. While some characters seemed slightly out-of-place [i.e. I don’t care if he’s the coach’s son, why the heck is the youth pastor hanging out in the middle school gym and at cheer tryouts all the time?], for the most part, the interaction of the themes surrounding Tansy’s daily life learning to more fully coexist with her disability, and the journey towards believing in God, was well structured.

I thought, despite all the #inspiration[al] tags, that overall the author did a decent job at not sensationalizing Tansy’s accomplishments, and allowing her to both succeed and screw up as much as a character without a disability would have, with a few exceptions of circumstances that wouldn’t have arisen if not for Tansy’s disability […which obviously is realistic]. In terms of the realism of integrating Tansy into the cheer team, I [being an adapted physical activity nerd] felt that Lira addressed the types of “wheelchair tricks” Tansy was able to learn well, but would have enjoyed reading more about how she became a true team member and not just a possible story of oh you’re in a wheelchair, we’ll let you on the team even though you blah blah blah through more concrete examples of how she used her chair as an asset and not an inspiration–such as how she would be integrated into team and more gymnastic-type and how existing routines were adapted. But, like I said, I’m a nerd that way.

Reading Guide:
A question guide is provided in the back of the book, which prompts the reader [or an educator or youth leader, etc.] to reflect on what they’ve read. The questions are evenly distributed between faith, friends, family, and Tansy’s disability. Though I never use reading guides on my own [because, what is this, school?], it’s definitely a nice bonus feature.

Recommendation:
A Different Kind of Cheerleader is geared towards older-school aged kids and younger-teens—an easily approachable read, with enough plot twists and serious/more mature themes to keep older readers engaged Cheerleader would be a great way to approach the topic of disability in a variety of settings. As both faith and disability are core-topics [and often very confusing], I’d recommend younger kids (under 12) be supported through reading this book, by a parent, mentor or educator, to best facilitate learning and enabling kids to ask questions and form a better understanding of their own thoughts on both core themes.

Final thoughts:
A Different Kind of Cheerleader is an approachable and engaging book for readers in their younger teens [and, if you’re me, early twenties], presenting a variety of opportunities for critical thought on faith and disability. With multiple quick unexpected turns in the plot, Cheerleader is easy to get lost in for a few hours, and would be a suitable way to begin a discussion on teens’ thoughts on what it means to live with a disability—and hopefully, one that can help realistically assist them in contemplating how to restructure their thoughts on a variety of different topics.

A Different Kind of Cheerleader can be found on Amazon. You can learn more about Lira on her website, and through connecting with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of the book, A Different Kind of Cheerleader, from the author, Lira Brannon, which I offered to review prior to finalizing the agreement. I was under no obligation to provide a favourable review.