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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Just Show Up

Saralee Perel telling the group of kids to just show up and try

Saralee Perel telling the group of kids to just show up and try

By: Saralee Perel

While walking in the woods near our home on Cape Cod, I met a man who taught me a three-word lesson that has altered my life.

His name was Morris and he was 82. He told me. "I walk here every day, rain or shine."

Noticing that I was wearing my neck brace and holding onto a tree with one hand and my cane with the other, he said, "So, is it hard for you to get around here?"

"Sometimes."

He nodded in understanding and added, "But you still do it." We seemed to form an unusually special bond on that day in the woods as we both spoke from our hearts.

"Frankly," I said. "It's harder for me to get here than it is to walk here. And that has nothing to do with my spinal cord injury. It has to do with my thinking."

"You get caught in maybe-I-will; maybe-I-won't land. That's the problem."

Yes!" I laughed at how perfectly he put that. "And that one second of debate is enough of a time gap for me to come up with a perfect excuse to talk myself out of it and press the button on the TV remote control instead."

Then he said the three magical words I now say to myself nearly every day: "Just show up."

Later my husband, Bob, asked me what Morris meant.

"Well, here's how I understand it. When the thought enters my brain, ‘I should walk,' I instantly start thinking about every single step it takes to get around to doing it. First I have to shower. That's scary, even with the handicap bars." Bob, always sensing when I need to talk, asked me to go on. I usually keep things to myself, which isn't such a hot idea, by the way.

Then I have to find something to wear. Then I have to find everything I need for safety. Then I have to – blah, blah, blah. I think what Morris meant was to scrap all of those thoughts. In other words, I should replace talking-myself-out-of-it thinking with the words: Just show up."

Bob started practicing Morris's philosophy and it's working for a lot of things. "I get overwhelmed at the computer with all the details I have to do," he told me. "Sometimes I just avoid it but that's crazy. So instead of thinking about the big picture, I say, ‘Just show up,' and I do."

Now, this new way of approaching things was working fine and dandy until Kelvin Ing and his wife, Amy Lipkind, contacted me. They organize and operate the Cape Cod Challenger Club. They've read my newspaper columns. My topics often include my spinal cord injury. That's why they got in touch.

Kids of the Cape Cod Challenger Club

Kids of the Cape Cod Challenger Club

Kelvin e-mailed, "We provide year round athletic, recreational and social activities for physically and developmentally disabled youth on the Cape."

He continued, "We pack the park with hundreds of people every Sunday during our baseball season. We would be honored if you would be our opening day speaker and throw out the first pitch."

I held my head in my hands. I'd rather visit Bob's parents than speak in public. (Trust me. That's a good example.) But I couldn't say no. So I instantly had the altruistic and benevolent thought, "I hate your guts, Kelvin."

The next day Bob went with me to meet Kelvin at Dunkin' Donuts. "Please don't make me give a speech," I pleaded with this delightful young man who had the crazy notion that since I write columns, somehow that implied that I could form words - out loud.

"Just a few sentences?"

I was able to buy time by licking the cream cheese off my bagel. Bob kept kicking my leg and touching his moustache, which I found out way too much later meant that I had a huge wad of cream cheese on my upper lip.

I reluctantly agreed.

In the middle of the night before my speech, I shook Bob awake. "What if I can't talk and just hiccup for 10 syllables instead of saying words?" (That did happen at our wedding.) "What if I can't walk that day? What if I have a panic attack? What if – " And Bob sweetly silenced me.

He said, "You know there's only one thing that matters."

I knew.

And so, I decided to "just show up" for the opening game.

It went beautifully. And by that I do not mean I did a good job giving my speech. It means that I faltered and stammered and even went blank twice. Should I have been embarrassed? Of course not. All I had to do was look around at the children and their parents, teachers, volunteers - and the beautiful expectant looks on everyone's faces. They were seeing someone disabled, like them, who simply got up there and tried.

I did the weirdest thing for my speech. I told the truth. Here's what I said:

"I am so excited to be here today with you wonderful people of the Cape Cod Challenger Club. I'm honored that Kelvin and Amy invited me.
And  . . .  I'm also scared to be talking in front of such a large group. But I'll tell you – I'm scared of a lot of stuff and I try to do it anyway.

So my message to you is this:

Winning doesn't matter.

Being scared doesn't matter.

The only thing that matters - - - - is that we try!!

Now, who's going to help me toss the first pitch?"

Many children, all disabled, raised their hands. "I will! I will!" They excitedly came running over to help me. I was very wobbly. My crew of helpers kept me from falling. I had the children hold onto my arm and the ball so that they also felt they were tossing the first pitch. And when we did, we all yelled, "PLAY BALL!"

Then someone handed me a huge bouquet of flowers.

You know, I found out that it wouldn't have mattered if I lost my balance. It wouldn't have mattered if I suddenly had trouble talking or any of the bad things that sometimes happen since my SCI.

The only thing that mattered was that I just showed up – for the children's sake – for the caregivers' sake – and for mine.

Thank God I had that chance encounter in the woods that day with Morris. Although he told me he walked there every day, I haven't seen him since.

And even though I know over forty people who walk that same path in the woods, not one of them has ever seen Morris. Kind of makes you wonder.

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, is a retired psychotherapist. She welcomes e-mails at sperel@saraleeperel.com or via her website: www.saraleeperel.com.

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The Adaptive Sports Center (ASC)A non-profit organization located in Colorado that provides year-round recreation activities for people with disabilities and their families.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Golf for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Sports and Competition (PDF)

American Association of AdaptedSportWorks to enhance the health, independence and self-sufficiency of youths with physical disabilities by facilitating adapted sports programs in local communities, in cooperation with schools, parks and recreation, YMCA/YWCAs, hospitals, parents and other groups.

Blaze Sports501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advances the lives of youth and adults with physical disability through sport and healthy lifestyles. BlazeSports provides sports training, competitions, summer camps and other sports and recreational opportunities for youth and adults with spinal cord injury, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy, amputation, visual impairment or blindness as well as other physical disabilities.

Disabled Sports USAOffers nationwide sports rehabilitation programs to anyone with a permanent physical disability. Activities include winter skiing, water sports, summer and winter competitions, fitness and special sports events. DSUSA, as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is the governing body for winter sports for all athletes with disabilities, and for summer sports for amputee athletes. Nationwide chapter network of sports and rec programs.

The Handicapped Scuba AssociationPromotes the physical and social well being of people with disabilities through the exhilarating sport of scuba diving.

Hand CyclingWhether for fitness, serious competition, or pure recreation, here's a sport that can be enjoyed by many and provide quite the "ride" at the same time.

International Paralympic CommitteeThe International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement. The IPC organizes the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games, and serves as the International Federation for nine sports, for which it supervises and co-ordinates the World Championships and other competitions.

Life Rolls OnLRO is the story of able-bodied individuals, working in concert with those with spinal cord injury, to motivate each other with the inspirational message of achievement in the face of extreme adversity. Life Rolls On utilizes action sports through our flagship program, They Will Surf Again, which pushes the boundary of possibility for those with spinal cord injury (SCI).

National Wheelchair Basketball AssociationBasketball is perhaps the oldest organized sport for athletes in wheelchairs. The game is fast and fun, and played in dozens of cities across the U.S.

The National Center on AccessibilityNSCD provides recreation for children and adults with disabilities. In addition to recreational downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, NSCD provides year-round competition training to ski racers with disabilities. Summer recreation opportunities include biking, hiking, in-line skating, sailing, therapeutic horseback riding, white water rafting, baseball, fishing, rock climbing for the blind, and camping.

Quad RugbyFormerly known as murderball, Quad Rugby is a game for quads who can push a chair. Fast, rough and very competitive.

The United States Tennis AssociationTennis has been adapted for the wheelchair player: the ball can bounce two times. This allows chair-players to give standup players a run for the their money. The sport is growing fast and is very competitive at the elite level. Click on "community tennis."

U.S. ParalympicsA division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, it is dedicated to becoming the world leader in the Paralympic sports movement and promoting excellence in the lives of people with physical disabilities through education, sports programs and partnerships with community organizations, medical facilities and government agencies.

World T.E.A.M. SportsUnites people with and without disabilities through unique athletic events taking place all over the world.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.