Our guest blogger this week is Neil Hirschey. Neil lost his leg above the knee in 2009 as the result of a motorcycle accident. Neil, a quality manager for a precious metals plating company lives in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. Neil is also an amputee peer support volunteer for in-patients at the Courage Center, an avid golfer, jet skier, snow skier and enjoys keeping active.
Neil shared a very candid observation.
I had the pleasure of participating in the T.O.D.D. Field Day held in the Twin Cities in Minneapolis in late September. This was the second year I’ve attended and I was reminded of the determination and fortitude I observed during last year’s event. What is prevalent, if one were to just sit back and observe, is the positive attitudes, the comradery, the competitive spirit and the awe inspiring results achieved by all of the participants. These inspirational souls range in age from pre teen to the late 70’s and the majority of these participants function as best they can with conditions including Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida and other neurological and spinal cord maladies. Others are amputees as a result of a variety of circumstances. What is particularly joyful is watching the grimaces of determination as they take on physical challenges most able-bodied persons would not and the gratifying smiles of accomplishment as they achieve their goals for the activity they bravely undertook. It’s an amazing and heartwarming experience. I might also add that I am a very active and ambulatory trans-femoral amputee as a result of a motorcycle accident over 4 years ago and have been blessed to be able to function “normally” with the assistance provided by microprocessor knee prosthetics.
I intentionally placed the word “normally” in quotations in an attempt to draw attention to the theme of what I wish to convey here. I enjoyed speaking with a father and son at the Field Day about this very subject. Robert, the son (who has Cerebral Palsy), while discussing occupational, recreational and professional goals, asked a very profound question – “what is “normal”?” I thought it was a great question! After all, what is “normal”? If we take any handicap or disability out of the equation, does that move us closer to being “normal” or does the fact that we adapt to our handicap make us more “normal”? Is being tall or short, fat or skinny, smart or dumb, attractive or homely “normal”? What is the true definition? Webster lists synonyms for “normal” such as common, everyday, ordinary, standard, unexceptional and unremarkable. Antonyms to “normal” such as exceptional, extraordinary, odd, strange and unusual are listed as well. Perhaps it should be our goal to have traits from both sides of the definition.
I’m sure we all have experienced the stares, the avoidance, the fears and uncomfortable looks from others who do not see us as “normal” as we use wheelchairs, crutches and prosthetics to function. In my amputee circles, we talk of the “new normal” we exist in as we pursue our endeavors while utilizing these devices. After all, don’t we all adapt, in one way or another, to become more “normal”? I feel very “normal” as an amputee but must admit that I did not feel that way immediately after my limb loss. However, as time has progressed, I’ve discovered that those around me do not even notice my handicap and I grow more and more comfortable leading my life in a manner that I have adapted to. A “new normal” really does transpire – who cares about the stares and avoidance – I’m living my life not succumbing to the notion that even though I am handicapped, I don’t have to live that way.
I guess I’m just trying to say that “normal” is really a relative thing. I’ve witnessed some exceptional handicapped individuals doing some extraordinary things – far from the common, everyday or unremarkable. These people are great to be around! I suppose that, by definition, these people are not “normal”. If indeed that’s the case, then I’m not “normal” either and that’s okay. But for me, it feels more “normal” to be associated with the likes of amazing Field Day participants, live with my handicap, continue to achieve my goals and embrace what I have. I hope you do too.