Just chop it off, Sally.
Hurdler and Olympic gold medallist Sally Pearson breaks her wrist in a Diamond League race in Rome doing what she does best – racing. She makes an off-the-cuff comment soon after, and all hell breaks loose.
Every human being that’s ever had a plan can tell you things don’t always work out right. A race can be brought to an abrupt halt with one slight stuff-up… and so can a media conference. Almost as quick as she hit the deck and fractured her wrist, Sally was withdrawing comments she made in the following day’s media interviews.
My question is: why does she need to retract her comments at all?
Throughout my athletics career I’ve trained alongside some of Australia’s most successful hurdlers. We shared the same coach, although I was always a sprinter. I witnessed with great admiration the effort Kyle Vander Kuyp put into getting to the top. He was meticulous, and over the years I came to admire his determination to get the best from himself on and off the field.
One thing I learnt was that Kyle felt the same respect for me as an athlete as I did for him, and given that he’s a 12-time national hurdles champion, I felt privileged to be in his training squad.
In the wake of the fuss over Sally Pearson’s injury and her subsequent tongue-in-cheek interview, I think what shouldn’t be forgotten is the circumstance in which Sally made her comments.
“My first thought was ‘I’m going to have to go to the Paralympics now,’” she said at a media call following the incident.
I thought this was pretty funny coming from Sally, who’s absolutely not known for her sense of humour. Well, certainly when I’ve been around her I haven’t been in fits of laughter.
Whenever I’ve had conversations with individuals who had an arm or leg in plaster, I’ve never been able to resist the temptation to tell them to just “chop it off and come with me’.
When I say, “Come with me”, I mean to the Paralympics. Having competed in three Paralympics and been a team manager at the most recent Paralympic Games, I am very comfortable with the reality of being an amputee and a sportsman. I’m delighted to have taken advantage of the opportunities that have been afforded to me because I was able to train and get good at my chosen sport.
I’m also very mindful of the other realities that came with being an amputee: the emotional pain that drove me to seriously contemplate ending my life, the physical pain that caused countless days away from school, the endless operations undertaken to give me a better quality of life. I’m well aware of the pain you experience when, running at top speed, a strap snaps on your artificial leg, sending you flying face-first into the track, the impact stripping layers of skin from your body. I’m well aware that chopping off a limb is accompanied by a reality that very few people will ever share first-hand.
However, as a motivational speaker privileged to address people (some of whom are recovering from horrific devastation) all over the world, I understand that when in shock, we often express very different views and opinions to those we’d articulate in a comfortable, controlled environment.
We often criticise our sportspeople for being boring as batshit, rolling out the same old lines in media interviews, yet when we get to see someone share the original thoughts that popped into their head in a moment of shock we shoot them down for being insensitive.
I would never flippantly say to a person contemplating a life-saving amputation to just “chop it off”. I have, however, discussed with individuals facing this dilemma the reality of having a limb amputated, and what life as an amputee can really be like.
The Paralympics is a wonderfully exciting event that takes place every four years following the Olympics, and everyone at those games has a story to tell. Believe it or not, some people have made it to the Paralympics following a similar sporting injury to Sally’s – as the result, for example, of a broken bone that hasn’t mended well.
To any athlete aspiring to reach great heights in his or her chosen sport, I’d suggest that there is a platform out there waiting. Should injury or disability allow you the chance to pursue a Paralympic career, then take it. It will be an amazing chapter in your life and something to be very proud of.
To fellow Paralympians: Don’t be so precious when someone makes light of becoming a Paralympian. Only those who’ve been there know what it takes to achieve that goal, and they also know what it takes to live life with a disability long after the spotlights have been turned off. Enjoy the fact that elite sportspeople see the Paralympics as the natural arena for world-class athletes with a disability.
So, Sally: free to chop it off and come with us.