By Carol Bunten
Raising 2 children who experience disability has its challenges. Swim lessons were a particularly Sisyphean task for us. We spent weekend mornings watching my children roll their boulders of fear up the mountain, only to have them roll back down again, year after year, with little progress and an ever-changing cast of befuddled instructors.
Because 71% of the Earth is covered with water, however, quitting wasn’t an option. In my heart, I believe that my kids can do anything with enough encouragement. So we signed them up for a triathlon, even though swimming features prominently and had been a source of anxiety and frustration for years.
The FACT website suggested that there would be a “wide range of options for supporting athletes as they complete the course,” including flotation devices, different types of bikes, and competing on a team with family and friends. I figured that with a lot of options we would find some way to get my kids 50 meters across the pool, hopefully without tantrums. Then, somehow, on a bike and then jogging. No problem! What could go wrong? Little did I know how much could go right!
I spent the first Tri for Youth on the bike course, first aid kit in hand in case any mishaps arose, while my husband supported my son and daughter. Despite my emergency preparedness, I was unprepared for the overwhelming sense of pride I felt watching the athletes and the battalion of volunteers cheering them on. My heart exploded, and tears poured from my eyes for three hours, witnessing successes of the athletes, all morning long. Somewhere in the middle of it all, my slightly damp 7 year old son raced by, alone on his bike, all smiles. He was so delighted by his accomplishments , and the freedom to speed ahead amidst all of the supporters, that he tried to joyfully tell me all about it as he whizzed by and promptly hit a curb, falling and scraping his knee.
He was still so proud of himself that he gamely got up, dusted himself off, got some first aid, and pushed through. He couldn’t wait to get to the finish line. So many previous obstacles had been met with frustration (and intolerance of his frustration). This time, magically, he just keep going without a fuss — even though he needed a pretty big bandaid. My tears doubled. Fortunately the first aid kit spent the rest of the day neatly tucked at my side, minus a few Kleenexes.
At the end of that first All Ability Tri4Youth, my whole family felt like we had accomplished something major. We all felt a new sense of confidence. The kids tried something that felt impossible, and found it to be possible, with the right support. They built on this success, and were motivated to get themselves across the pool in the next triathlon just with the power of their own bodies (and maybe one kickboard and a noodle, just in case, but GREAT PROGRESS WAS MADE!)
These past 2 triathlons will be something I remember for the rest of my life. I know that these experiences have provided a sense of accomplishment for my children, who don’t always feel capable and secure in themselves in the world. Two years later, they have built on these successes and lessened their fears enough to demand a trip to Great Wolf Lodge to try out the waterslides, of all things.
The mission of FACT Oregon is to empower families experiencing disability in their pursuit of a whole life. I’d say: Mission accomplished.