Able-Bodied or Dis-abled?

Marty Ball

The Paralympics opened today. It reminded me of a time long ago when I met Marty Ball, one of America’s first paralympic stars. I was working at Helen Hayes Hospital, and helped the staff start the 10K road race, The Helen Hayes Classic Race, to which Helen came to open the first official competition. Marty was a nationally recognized wheelchair champion athlete and agreed to open the race and help recruit wheelchair athletes for the inaugural race.

Though I had a degree in Special Education, I was amazed when Marty and his beautiful girl friend, also a wheelchair racer, arrived at the hospital, flung open the doors to his van, and preceded to unload his wheelchair. He plopped into it, and rolled over to a group of us so called “able-bodied” people and shook hands, introducing his partner. I distinctly remember Marty’s athletic body and robust presence, and thinking: he is far more able-bodied than the rest of us.

At that time, Marty Ball was using his notoriety as an athlete to champion races in which both able-bodied and people with disabilities raced together. And, in 1983, he was the first wheelchair athlete to complete the NY Marathon. Since then, the paralympics as grown to international competitive fame.

I was delighted today on writing this column to learn that Marty has continued to make a positive difference in the lives of so-call disabled athletes lives by innovating wheelchair technology, He has worked with designers  of wheelchairs for athletes, and everyone in need of individualized mobile technology to get around and lives a full life. Here is Marty in 2013 speaking about the development of the wheelchair for athletes:

Marty contracted polio as a young boy before the Salk vaccine was invented. Helen Hayes Hospital was originally established to treat people recovering from polio. Today, Helen Hayes Hospital is one of the nation’s top rehabilitation centers for people with injuries or disabling conditions to maximize their health and live to the fullest. It was such an honor to work there in the Bone Research Center where at that time some of world’s best surgeons were improving the gait of children with cerebral palsy and other similar musculoskeletal disorders.

I look at Marty today, review his life’s path, and once again, I am reminded that the adjectives we may use to describe each other mean nothing. It is how we take our lives, our ship, out onto the ocean of human experience and sail away to our destinies. Let’s all enjoy the Paralympics!

Postnote: One of my fondest memories from the inaugural Helen Hayes Classic Road Race was the image of my son, Tommy, at age 10, crossing the finish line! You could already see the making of a great athlete in him. It was a rainy day, my husband Tom held an umbrella over Marty, and all the runners and wheelers started together and ran the race together. It was a wet day, we all looked like drowned cats, but the spirit soared, and today the race is still going!


Our Lady of Guadalupe – Patroness of the Americas


Our Lady of Guadalupe inspires millions of believers, offering a mothering balm of love, peace, and forgiveness through her Blessed Son. Read the legend of the appearance of the Holy Mother on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. Her apparition was witnessed by Juan Diego who had gone to the hill at the request of his Bishop to gather roses for the church. The Bishop’s actions were inspired by a request for a sign from the Holy Mother after she asked the Bishop to build a church on the hill. When Juan Diego returned with the roses, an image of the Holy Mother was embedded in his tilga–a garment that has remained without any sign of wear or age for the last 485 years.

Miracles do happen but we never know how or sometimes why. The universe and the Earth herself are imbued with numinous qualities that we intuit but can never “prove”.

Guadalupe Shrine on Tumamoc Hill

In my novel Threshold, Dolores Olivarez is a devout Catholic who recites the Rosary as she hikes the mountain to the top.

At the summit, she looks out over the vast metropolis, and then down at the Birthplace of Tucson at the base of the mountain. cropped-cropped-mission-a-mt.jpg

From a place of reverence, Dolores seeks to understand the meaning of her time and place, much as Juan Diego climbed to gather his roses.

At the Trailhead of a New Year

Paul Baker: The Quiet Path
Paul Baker: The Quiet Path

As the New Year begins today,  I am listening to Paul Baker’s beautiful Celtic harp renderings on The Quiet Path.

I believe it is important to be aware of first steps with the gift of this New Path.

Time as we Westerners perceive it, is a linear path.  But, many other cultural traditions see time as circular, spiral in nature, turning back on itself, learning again and again until the lesson at each part of a life’s path, is complete.

On this first day of the new year, the new physical cycle of the sun’s path, take time to understand where you are on your life’s path. The sun “returns”, lengthening daytime, illuminating our perceptions, invigorating growth and fruitful endeavor.

Happy New Year My Dear Family and Friends!

“And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.”

Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky’s Red River Gorge