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Module 3: RESPECT LIFE

(Page 13) Resource sheet 3

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BORN TO RACE


"I'm going to jump - you can't stop me!" Everyone froze at the edge of the pool. Brenda a beautiful eight-year-old with black pigtails and mischievous brown eyes teetered on the high dive. Her crutches lay at the bottom of the ladder. In unison, her mother and her aunt and uncle shouted, "Brenda! Not the high dive!" Brenda grinned wickedly. Nothing made her want to do something more than being told she couldn't. Whooping with delight, she sailed out over the water and surfaced unhurt.

Brenda was born with spina bifida. Although it did not cause total paralysis, it did mean hauling around ten kilos of metal leg braces and crutches. But in the water, her awkwardness turned to grace. It was not the weakness in her legs which counted, but the strength in her arms and shoulders.

 

As she practised, visions of Olympic swimmers danced in her mind. "Some day I'll be like them", she thought. But the coach of the local swimming team only saw a girl who walked like a duck. The fact that she could swim like one didn't seem to count.

In the next years, Brenda had many setbacks including a serious operation for an infected leg and the muscles began to deteriorate. The prospect arose of having to use a wheelchair. Nothing, she argued, would be worse than that. Yet something kept her swimming, although she refused to compete. Then disabled wheelchair athlete, Paul McDowell, got her interested in wheelchair racing and with his encouragement she began a vigorous training schedule.

She became so good that Paul suggested she train for the Paralympics. As they worked out a training schedule, she let out that she swam. McDowell was most excited when he saw how good she was and, despite her protests, got her into competitive swimming. She beat every freestyler in her category. "You've got a serious chance for the US Paralympic team", Paul said. She hated the idea because it would mean training in the sport she associated more with humiliations than rewards.

But finally she realised he was right. It was time to forget road-racing, hire a swimming coach and throw herself into her childhood dream. In six months she achieved what usually took three years. "You've got a physiology most people would kill for!" said her coach.

Brenda was picked for the Paralympics team for Barcelona, where she swam faster in the 50 metres freestyle than she had ever done before, winning a bronze medal and then a gold medal as a member of the 100 metre freestyle relay team.

Reprinted with permission from the
February 1995
Reader's Digest magazine.
© The Reader's Digest Association Ltd.

 

R3-M3-PAGE 13

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