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How the Gym Changed My Expectations About Life With a Disability

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“I can.”

I step up to the bar and I inhale a deep breath. My eyes focus on the words on the wall in front of me. “Relentless,” “fearless” and “strong.” I close my eyes and in the blackness, I feel a calm wash over me. I place my hands on the cold steel bar and I duck to feel the bar pressed up against my neck. The world becomes a blur as I feel the beating of my heart. A few seconds later, I feel the quiver in my legs as I am struggling to do just one more. Just one more. The searing pain in my legs tells me that I am worthless, that I am weak, that I will never be able to simply be “normal.” I see the word “relentless” glaring at me and I muster up all the strength inside me and fight to lift upwards.

As I place the bar back onto the rack, my lips form an unstoppable grin. I look at my coach. “I can.” I feel like a dominant beast who conquered the world. I stand tall and proud prepared for anything that is thrown at me. “What’s next?” He laughs because I am always eager for the next set of exercises. As I walk beside him to the next station there is a happy bounce in my step, for I conquered that set.

Eight years ago, they said it was impossible for me to walk. They said it was impossible for me to be healthy. They said I could never be strong. They said living a full and complete life was impossible.

I was a fool to believe them. I gave in to the low expectations of people with disabilities. In my heart, I dreamed only for the simple things. I resigned myself to accepting that there were impossibilities for me. I never dared to hope that I could be an athletic woman with a disability.

When I gave up the foolish notion that because I am disabled, I must be fragile, I began to soar. For here I am with my head held high, with my body shaking as I do my 16th lunge with a 25-pound bar on my neck. I look into the mirror and I no longer see a woman shackled to the low expectations society has for people with disabilities.

I am ferocious. I refuse to accept the limits I have been told to believe. My disability does not define my passions, my goals, and has no control over my dreams. I am a woman with a disability and I am deeply in love with the rush that comes from finishing that last hard set.

I am a woman with complex regional pain syndrome and I love lifting.

I am a woman with a disability and I can do anything.

Don’t expect me to be fragile anymore.

Watch me soar.

Getty image by Nithid Photo.

Originally published: February 27, 2021
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