Shelagh Fogarty: Stutzman scoffs at talk of the impossible
He loves fishing, plays guitar with his feet and does all the chores any dad does
Friday 07 September 2012
I'm sitting outside the Olympic Stadium thinking how lucky I am to be here. My first night in what BBC athletics commentator Mike Costello called "this volcano of sport" spoilt me somewhat. I watched open-mouthed as Alan Oliveira beat Oscar Pistorius in the 200m, and thought my ears might burst as the crowd roared David Weir over the line in the 5,000m wheelchair race.
Luck plays a part in everyone's life, I suppose, but some get luckier than others. American athlete Matt Stutzman won a silver medal this week in the Paralympic Archery competition. He was born with no arms. Medical reports cite no clinical reason for it. Just one of those things. For his parents it was a thing they couldn't cope with or stick with. They put him up for adoption at 13 months old. This is where his luck gets better. Jean and Leon Stutzman liked the look of him as they viewed a number of other children needing a home. The others weren't disabled so years later he asked them why they chose him. On my radio show he told me they said he was jumping up and down to get their attention so in a way it was he who chose them. It's down to him. They've been giving him that message ever since – "Impossible is a state of mind" their mantra.
Matt took them at their word. He taught himself to shoot so he could go hunting with his father, he loves fishing, plays the guitar with his feet, and does all the chores any young dad does. He dislikes being treated as a disabled person because he believes there's nothing he can't get around. When I met him his directness – about everything – soon put his lack of arms at the back of the queue of things to notice about him.
Along with several of the 5 Live commentary team we talked about the daily reality of living with a physical disability. Swimmers Marc Woods and Kate Grey joined reporter Andy Stevenson in sharing their tales, not of woe, but of how much of their time is spent helping other people to get over the discomfort or curiosity they have about what they see. Kate lost her left hand and part of her arm in an accident at the age of two. She decided at senior school to ditch the prosthetic arm she used and just show people who she is. She made us roar with laughter as she described how friends use the squidgy bit at the end as a kind of stress ball. Andy has no arms and said how noticeable it has been at the Paralympic Games that no one stares at him – a frequent occurrence usually. It's been liberating, he says. Can you imagine having some aspect of your body stared at, judged, or alarm people every single day? It takes some self-possession not to let that distort your sense of yourself.
Marc, who has been commentating on the swimming with Kate, uses a prosthetic leg and is a multiple Paralympic swimming champion. He had cancer as a teenager and had his leg amputated as a result. During a stint as a lifeguard he opted for shorts one day because it was hot. A woman who'd seen him every day beforehand, in his role as lifeguard, saw him, looked startled and said, "Can you swim?" Four gold medals in the pool, my dear.
It's a common theme and it's been said before. First the birth defect, illness or accident disables a person, then we do. I say "we" because most of us, if we are honest, have thought or done this kind of thing. I wasn't sure if I should offer my hand to Matt Stutzman when I met him. Instead of asking him directly I just didn't do it. He was having none of that! I suddenly understood Kate's pals. It felt nice.
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