The ADA has accomplished a great deal for people with disabilities in our society, but still has a long way to go until its full potential can be realized with full implementation. I’d hope that most people would broadly agree with that sentiment, but today I am going to focus on the first part of my opening statement. If the year 2020 has taught me anything, it is to be grateful for what I have. The end of the calendar year is a natural time to reflect on what has happened. With so much overwhelming negativity, stress, and polarization in the society today, it would be very easy to look back and feel the weight of the world. When it comes to maintaining a positive outlook, I have learned that I need to focus on the good. Just to be clear, I don’t ignore the bad in life, I just don’t find putting my attention on it as a default mentality improves my quality of life. Focusing on the good, however, does put things into perspective and leaves me with more peace of mind.
I want to start with one of my stand-out memories of 2020, a weekend spent with a couple of my best friends in early February, just before life got very different. I drove out to Salida, CO with a Paralympic cycling teammate to visit one of our former teammates who retired from competing in 2019. It was just an over night trip, but we were 3 people with various disabilities that went for a nice bike ride (we took a Strava KOM for those who know what that is), enjoyed one of the hot springs in the area, barbequed and laughed until the wee hours of the night. At the time this weekend didn’t especially stand out as out of the ordinary, but now it seems like a lifetime away. I am so happy I could share that time with my friends.
I am fortunate that the pandemic hasn’t relieved me of employment. I truly appreciate how lucky I am. Operations of the ADA Center were able to transition to a work-at-home status relatively easily. I do miss seeing my awesome colleagues around the office, and how easy it is to pick their brains about difficult situations in-person, but I am lucky to have that environment to look forward to returning to one day.
One trend I noticed with incoming TA is just how proactive several local municipalities have been under the ADA. I have received many calls about proposed changes to facilities to try to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and impressed with the concern they show for people with disabilities. I’m not sure any of this would have been realized if this pandemic had happened several years ago. Even though the ADA is over 30 years old, many local governments are still just learning about their responsibilities under the ADA. I’m much happier having Title II entities call to make sure a change is compliant rather than having people with disabilities call to understand if they had been discriminated against.
I am exceedingly fortunate that my other job, as a Paralympic track cyclist, has afforded me so much opportunity. Since I moved to Colorado, I have always been beyond grateful to be able to train at the facilities of the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. In March, the shut-down of all non-essential facilities also impacted the training center, and formal training was canceled. As a cyclist, I was fortunate enough to be able to train by myself outdoors. Even though it’s not quite the same as having a velodrome, riding on the road was better than nothing. What I couldn’t replicate so easily was strength training. Any fitness enthusiast will understand how difficult this year has been in acquiring equipment. Because I am privileged enough to be on the National Team, I decided to put my monthly stipend towards home gym equipment and specialty bars to allow me to perform exercises my arm would otherwise limit me from doing. I placed my orders and from that point on I played the waiting game for stock to replenish, some items taking 4 months. In the meantime, I was supremely thankful to have my disability.
To me, having a disability isn’t about things that I can’t do. Having a disability is about learning to be creative in order to do the things I need to do. In this context, I needed to keep training, with or without the proper equipment. I took stock of what I had: a backpack, a wooden bench, an ottoman, a pile of rocks in the back yard. I could still get leg work by doing 1-leg squats from the bench, wearing a backpack weighted by rocks and holding the ottoman for extra weight and counterbalance. This was difficult at first and I was able to progress the overload by adding more weight in the backpack. By the time my real equipment started arriving, I was pleased at how well the at-home exercises helped maintain my normal gym-strength. There is no “quit” in having a disability. If I don’t figure something out, then I’m stuck with no one to do it for me. This lesson has helped me to achieve great experiences in both my previous music career and current athletic endeavors. For that, I am grateful. There is so much to be grateful for in life.