Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Sappy Sports Story

This is going to sound very sappy. But Jordan recently started playing wheelchair basketball, and this has been a very great experience for him and for his dad and me. When Jordan was born, the doctors felt confident enough to predict what he would NOT be able to do. Wouldn't walk, wouldn't well... LIVE. The first doctor predicted before he was an hour old that he would not live to age 1. When else do doctors feel like they can predict what a person's life is going to be or not be? How dare they put limits on a baby before he is even an hour old?

I recently read an article about the actress Laura San Giacoma. She has a son with CP and talked about the way she wishes doctors would give diagnoses to new parents. She mentioned that early on a doctor told her that her son would never play basketball, yet now he does in his own way. She wishes that doctors would give HOPE to parents, not just tell them what their kids would not be able to do. Because guess what? No one can predict that, least of all at birth!

This got me thinking about how important basketball has become to us as a family. It is so strange to think of being told that Jordan would not even survive and then if he did, he would not accomplish anything physically, yet now it is actually possible that he could get a sports scholarship someday. I think of other people I know whose kids don't have disabilities, and their kids are not interested in sports. And then it is MY son, who has a disability, who might just be the one to get a sports scholarship.

Soon after Jordan was born missing part of his spine, I thought, "Anything can happen. Wait... ANYTHING can happen." Anything bad can happen, but the opposite can happen, too: something you have never imagined, never, ever considered as remotely possible. Something that never even crossed your mind. We have had the hardest of times but have also had the complete opposite of that: more elation and joy than I ever could have imagined. To see my tiny little boy going after the other team's biggest, best player; to see his confidence and smile; to see him doing something I never even imagined for him....

When he was a newborn, I would go clothes shopping for him and would get so depressed when I saw anything with a sports theme. I steered clear of those outfits. I had loved sports as a kid, but it wasn't just that; it was that he was predicted to not be able to do something. It was then that one thing that I wanted most for him.

Before starting basketball, he did play on soccer and baseball teams. But those teams, also for kids with disabilities, were more the "everyone wins" philosophy. Everyone gets on base, everyone scores a run. The had "buddies," who were older kids who are very good at the sport, but they let Jordan's team "win." But this basketball, it's "real." It's an actual Paralympic sport. He learned more in the first five minutes of wheelchair basketball than he did in several seasons of Miracle League baseball and The Outreach Program for Soccer. He is allowed to lose. He only wins when he wins. He is valued as part of the team. He is depended on and is treated as a competent and complete person. If he makes a mistake, he is given constructive criticism. And he is also supported and inspired. He might not be able to reach the 10-foot basket yet, but he is great on defense and at getting rebounds, and he is working on shooting.

It has also been great for us as parents to meet other parents who "get it." We don't have to explain anything. We don't have to hear well-meaning aphorisms about disability that have worn very thin by now. And Jordan is becoming good friends with his teammates. It's so nice to see them between games having fun and hanging out. At one of the tournaments, three of the team members and one sibling were playing ping pong, and the three team members were in their wheelchairs. The kid without the wheelchair was the oddball for once.

And he just loves it. I have asked him why he keeps smiling, when he should try to look intimidating to the other team. "I know," he said, "but I just love it so much that I can't stop smiling."

And that is the main thing, that he loves it and is happy. That's all I ever wanted for him, whether he was playing sports or chess or video games--for him to have the sheer elation and joy that we have in watching him grow.