By Michael Sylvia
Look at me! Third month in a row of nice and orderly consecutive postings. It is a good thing since I no longer have any available excuses at hand as this school year has ended. It is pretty surreal becoming a senior and knowing that in barely a year, everything I know will change tremendously. Speaking of my senior year, if you have not already done so, check out the wisdom-filled letter written by the well known EG celebrity, Andrew Miner.
For now though, let me focus on sports. Sports has been a very interesting aspect in my life because it is something that does not come easy to me. For this reason, my interest level throughout my life has waxed and waned.
I started my childhood pretty normally sport wise. I participated in both town league soccer and baseball. It’s funny, I remember that playing sports was never really my favorite thing to do. In fact, in some games, the only thing that got me through was looking forward to the snacks that were given out post game.
I remained on this track up until I was about 8 or 9. At this point, my peers were beginning to grow and I could no longer keep up with them. Luckily, I was able to extend my career in town league sports by sliding a level down and playing in my brother’s age group. As I grew older I started to realize my disability and my desire to play sports began to decrease. I knew sports were not my thing and because of it I began to shy away from them. I did continue to play baseball another couple of seasons. I appreciate the fact that my community was so supportive and flexible with regards to creating accommodations to let me play. I do think because I knew I had the crutch of playing down a level that it caused me to become further disinterested in sports. I wanted to prove that I could complete or participate in a task just as anyone else would.
Playing with younger kids in order to participate in baseball did not cut it for me. I either wanted to play fair or not play at all. With that view in mind, I figured I needed to take another approach towards sports. When I was 12, I heard about a local group dedicated to getting kids with disabilities active in sports and physical activity. The group was called NDSA which is short for National Disability Sports Alliance. There was a chapter based in Rhode Island that would compete with other similar groups nationwide. It was very much like the Special Olympics. I emailed the director and within two weeks I was at McCoy stadium for a promotional event.
I liked NDSA. It made me more open minded to the fact my disability did not affect me as much as it did others. In fact, I was more able bodied than many of the people who were also in the group. Finally, I found a forum where I could excel in sports. After participating in regional events, I then went to Spokane, Washington, to compete in Nationals. It was beautiful there. The best place that you could ever hold an event; there was absolutely no humidity, far from what we experience here in muggy EG. Nationals in Spokane was really the pinnacle of my training with NDSA. I competed in both track and field events; I threw the javelin, shot put and the club. I also ran the 60 meter, 100 meter, 200 meter and the big 400.
That year I placed first in every event in which I competed. It felt great to be doing so well. Unfortunately, things still did not seem right. After doing some investigation, I realized why it seemed so easy for me. With disabilities, it is very tricky to match up opponents. Usually, a disability or a condition affects everyone differently. For instance, as I have discussed in previous posts, with cerebral palsy, a portion of the brain becomes damaged and becomes unusable. Certain aspects such as speech, eating, walking and really any other day to day task can be negatively impacted. Realistically, in every case a different portion of the brain is injured thus the ability or disability of a person can vary. So, because of the varying disability levels, there could be 700 kids participating but I would really only be competing against maybe one or two of them that were classified as having the same level of disability as me.
This “classification” system bothered me. I thought to myself that things still were not fair. Again, I started to veer from sports. After just one and a half seasons with NDSA, the group experienced some issues and eventually was halted. I took it as a sign and ultimately stopped playing sports and exercising in general. I was about 13 at this point and as the “teenage years” began to settle in, I became angry. Angry at everything and everyone. I thought I was a genius and came up with this justification that because I never was going to physically be at my full potential, it was not worth trying. I thought I was fighting for a lost cause.
Xbox then took control of my life. I would spend countless hours working towards achieving the next “prestige” in my favorite video game. All my time was spent researching how I could be better at this game. Xbox became my safe haven, a place where I was not restrained by physical immobilities. Everybody had a soldier, everybody had a gun and everybody had a rank. It was the closest I had ever gotten to my idea of fair. For that reason, I would spend days inside playing the game. The only time I made it outside was to go to school where I would fantasize about getting to the next rank in my video game. It was a really nasty cycle that did not really do much for me. At the time, I was also going through the discussion and preparation for my surgeries, which only made things worse. I had an excuse for my behavior. People were very sympathetic towards me and in turn I felt bad for myself. I hated those weekend days when I would go to bed in the same pajamas I woke up in. It was the tell-tale sign that I got nothing accomplished and another day was wasted. Somehow, I thought that one day it was going to change all by itself and everything would magically turn out great.
I remained in this negative cycle up until my sophomore year. By then my surgeries had already come and gone and I no longer had anything that I could use as an excuse. After all, the whole point of both surgeries was to get me to a better state physically. I started to realize the path I was on could only go two ways; get worse or get better.
After my epiphany, I started to care again. I started to try to be happy. I started to become myself again. With a few nudges from the great Elizabeth Mcnamara, I began writing this blog! Now, I am making more of an attempt to be active because I know that is what brings me happiness. I now work twice a week at a new up and coming training center called Amp Fitness.
My trainer, Andy Procopio, does a great job of keeping everything I do there as mainstream as possible. I can truly say that when I am working out, I experience the idea of fairness I have been talking about. Most importantly, I now know that happiness is not something that happens by coincidence or a randomly activated emotion. I have to desire to be happy. I have to put in effort to achieve happiness as with anything in life. After all, anything worthwhile requires effort.
Michael Sylvia, who has cerebral palsy, is going into his senior year at East Greenwich High School. Here are links to some of his earlier blog posts: