Let The Games Begin

Recently, I wrote an article about the various ways in which I enjoy watching (listening to?, although you can always say watching to me I promise) sports. It is a national pastime for so many of us, and yet ironically, it probably contributes to our sedentarism. So few of us actually get off of our rumps and play ! sports, especially those of us with disabilities.

With yesterday’s launch of the winter Paralympics, a series of adapted sports for persons with disabilities that began in the 40s, I thought I would attempt to highlight some of the sports and leagues that have been created to try and address the affore mentioned shortcoming. I heard via NPR that there are five sports currently played in the Paralympics: skiing, sledge hockey, the biathalon, which involves cross-country skiing and shooting at a target, and I am unable to recall the final two. I am not sure to what degree blind individuals participate in these games, but I do know some who enjoy skiing. I’ve never tried it, and am not entirely convinced I have the guts to do so.

I think for the most part, blind folks tend to partake in summer-type activities to a much greater extent. These range from nearly full-body contact sports to rather more laid back pursuits that at least allow for some display of ability.

The one I most enjoyed while growing up was beep baseball. Many of us refer to it as more a combination of baseball and football, as you have to corral the heavy softball as it rolls along the ground, and you’re just about as likely to lose an arm in the process. Ah, but it was great fun. My hearing, and perhaps my body, has deteriorated too much for me to safely play now, sadly. For more details on that sport, read the linked article above.

Another sport I tried but didn’t like as much was goal ball. Here, you lie on the floor inside of a taped line, and smash a ball with bells to the other side where the other team is. Your objective is to get it by the other team and across the line, which would result in a score. The other team must attempt to stop it with their bodies, quite often by having the ball slam into a belly. Ah ok, this was kinda fun I suppose. But it’s usually played in hot, sweaty gyms. I was never all that good at it.

And of course, there are always track and field-type events. Of these, I most enjoyed the longjump, where you have to gather up momentum and launch yourself across a sandy pit as far as you could go. I was also a decent runner in my day, often tiring my guides out when in high school.

The only other “sport,” if it can indeed be called that, in which I participated is bowling. Specifically, my area had created a team that was a part of the American Blind Bowling Association (ABBA). They connect with several local teams who host area and regional tournaments, and send participants to the National Tournament held once a year.

I only ever competed in one tournament in Winston-Salem, NC. I enjoyed it, though my scores were laughable and it can get pricy to bowl every week. We had practices, and so we went to the alley on Fridays at $8 a pop.

There are other sports about which I know less, such as blind golf. My cousin says he has done this, and if I remember correctly you have a sighted person behind you who lets you know where abouts to swing the club. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some sort of blind table tennis league also.

For those of you who are curious, especially parents raising blind or low vision children, I’d suggest googling a lot of these sports. There is a lot that one can do to be and remain active, and of course the benefits of so doing cannot be overstated. While I may not engage in athletics as much as I once did or should, I definitely do walk for at least 20 minutes a day. Going to and from the bus stop is good for that.

I am aware that this is a blind-centric post, since that is what I most know. I invite persons with other sorts of disabilities or those who have learned about what may be available for wheelchair users and the like to guest post here. Just contact me if you are willing to do it. Thanks.

Explaining The Sports Thing: or, why do I get so into something that doesn’t really matter?

My cousin and I are the only ones sitting at the table, our plates piled high with sloppy joe, mashed potatoes and baked beans. The headphones connected to our walkmen are plastered to our ears as we eat nervously.

The rest of the apartment’s occupants, my sisters and parents, are watching a movie in the adjoining living room. It has reached a particularly quiet, I think sad, scene, and everyone seems to be sitting wrapped in his or her own thoughts about whatever is happening onscreen.

Meanwhile, the game we’re listening to, the Charlotte Hornets vs. the Miami Heat, is winding down in the old Charlotte Coliseum. The bees trail by 3, and Glen Rice prepares to take the hopefully game-tying shot. This act itself comes with its own weight, as Rice had recently defected from the Heat team he is now trying to defeat, having departed on somewhat unhappy terms.

Rice receives the pass. The clock ticks through final seconds: 3, 2, 1.

Glen Rice for three!” our favorite announcer Steve Martin says. The buzzer sounds, crowd noise increases significantly, and Martin says “good!”

My cousin and I erupt simultaneously into hoops of joy and clapping. Once we calm down, we discover that we’ve upset the silence and everyone is a little concerned about what might be wrong with us. I’ve also lost my Walkman, as it’s been flung to the floor and the batteries dislodged, but at this moment I don’t care. He hit the shot!

I wonder why so many people get attached to team sports in this way? We sit on the clich├ęd edge of our seats, as if the outcome will cause us real harm of joy. And when did this sort of attachment really begin. Could it have existed before the presence of electronic media?

Certainly if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed, and perhaps been a bit annoyed by, my live tweeting during sporting events. I always work not to take it too far overboard, but for me having this form of interaction definitely enhances the experience. As a blind person, I enjoy the feeling that I’m in a sort of virtual bar with people all around who somewhat unwittingly describe exactly what’s going on to me, in addition to what the radio analysts detail.

When I first began getting into sports, my favorite was professional basketball. Specifically, I loved our Charlotte Hornets until they ripped my heart out!

Ever since, though, my and seemingly much of the country’s (US of course) favorite sport seems to be American football. Go Carolina Panthers! I’ve often wondered why this is, given its violent nature and the too-high likelihood that someone will sustain a significant injury on a fairly regular basis. In the last few years though, even my mostly non-sports-watching family will allow the TV to be dominated by this pastime on major holidays like Thanksgiving, and we can all sit around and talk strategy, wins and losses, etc.

I guess that longtime junkies like myself and more recent suplicants who have folded themselves into the sports-watching universe have realized is that cheering on this sort of athletic competition allows us to get at some primal pleasure that is deeply embedded in being human. We can get a pure rush of adrenaline, have reason to swear, throw things, and otherwise blow off steam as a game reaches either a favorable or unfavorable conclusion.

Whatever the reason, I think sports represent one of the best forms of escape we have available. So if I rib you about your team, remember that it’s all in fun. And please note my law that requires that you pull for the team in the city/state/region in which you were born. No Cowboys or Skins fans allowed in North Carolina!

I think the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting event was when I attended a Bobcats/Celtics game in Boston. This was 2005, so the Celtics hadn’t yet gotten into championship form. I was so dismayed when Paul Pierce hit the winning layup that I yelled at passing fans as we made our way out of the arena. Catching our team on the road definitely gave me a stronger sense of pride in my hometown, though.

Do you enjoy sports? Have you ever been to a game. One where your team was playing away?

This topic inspired by one of my favorite writer friends on Twitter. Feel free to suggest other stuff you’d like to see me talk about, as I work to produce regular posts. Thanks.