I always did pretty well in school. I was that one kid who seemed to excel with minimal effort. I was so proud of that too, that is until P.E. was a required class one semester. Whoever decided that running 2 miles was a required benchmark, I hate you.
Physical education classes are not kind to the handicapped. The benchmarks for fitness don’t consider our capabilities at all.
I showed up to the first day of class and the teacher began to lay out his grading structure. He made it perfectly clear what was required to make certain grades. As he continued the lecture, I avoided eye contact at all costs. I was hoping that by some grace of God the gymnasium would swallow me whole, so I wouldn't have to endure failing miserably, both physically and academically.
He droned on and on about the timed miles and weight room minimums. He made sure to mention that push-up and sit-up tests would act as pop quizzes. I knew I was screwed because I wouldn't be able to keep up.
I was hoping that through it all, I didn't look as terrified as I felt on the inside. I guess I didn't do a very good job, because my teacher went straight up to me after class and asked me what was wrong. I couldn't tell him that I'd rather be anywhere but there, so I went with a more polite version of the truth. I told him I was nervous to be in the class because my Cerebral Palsy would make it more difficult for me to pass.
At the time, I would have rather not tried at all, than try and fail.
I explained how the structure of his class didn't really work for me. I told him I was at a major disadvantage and he said, "Okay, what does work for you?"
He took into consideration what I needed and always double checked if the alternative he came up with was okay with me.
So instead of the 2-mile final, I had to complete just 4 laps at my own pace.
Instead of soccer tournaments, I just needed to complete an hour on a stationary bicycle.
My time in the weight room only needed to be certain machines, making it more tailored to my needs.
When it came to my progress, my teacher threw out his rule book. While he wanted me to be challenged in his class, he didn't want me to feel defeated.
He never let the class get too easy though. I fell off the tae-bo boxes more than once, but I always got back up.
That P.E class really changed how I approached my fitness. As hard as I tried, I always held myself to a "normal" standard. When I couldn't hit the mark, I felt like I had failed. I needed to recognize that my standards weren't "lower", they were just different. I felt like I was being SEEN for the first time. It is very easy to exclude the handicapped when it comes to physical aptitude, yet this teacher found a way to challenge and include me (while simultaneously trying not to kill me).
The entire semester he was like my own personal cheerleader and trainer. He always checked in to see if I could push myself more. I always tried to give him my version of 110%. When we had to practice volleyball and I finally made it over the net, he was so proud of me. Dammit, it felt good to get that ball over the net.
His mentorship culminated at an end of the year banquet where they gave out academic achievement awards. I was invited because I was getting a presidential academic award. In the end, every teacher was to give out an award for exemplary performance in their subject. I just assumed that the coach would give the award to one of the several athletes in our class. His speech went a little like this:
"I'm here to give this award for exemplary performance in my class. When making this decision I only had one person in mind. They were always willing to try and their perseverance in trying is nothing short of exemplary. Congratulations Bianca Arroyave."
And I have to tell you, getting up on that stage and hugging this teacher while holding that award was so validating. From the first day of not wanting to be in the class, to being recognized for my performance at the end was the best kind of journey.
I am grateful every day for that coach and for his patience with me, he really did change my life.
Thank you so much Coach Di Nicola.
Everything really is about perspective. Changing perspective to keep motivation was crucial and I am a better person because of it.
Does anyone else have a person like that in their lives? A person that really helped changed your perspective? Share with me in the comments below.
Until next time …
- Bianca A.