To Swim, or Not to Swim?

For Anyone Who Doesn’t Have a Perfect Model’s Body, That is THE Question!

Swimming is an activity most Floridians enjoy, whether it’s spending the day in the warm, salty waves at a favorite beach, taking a quick dip in the pool or doing laps to get or stay in shape. But according to most recreation therapists I know, swimming is the sport that draws the fewest amputee participants. Why? It’s all about body image. Taking off that cover-up or those street clothes in front of others is traumatic for anyone who doesn’t think they have society’s idea of a perfect body…and it’s especially difficult for those of us living with amputations and other extreme physical differences.

Speaking from my own experience, I’m sure some people feel anxious or apprehensive about the “ability” part of getting in the water, but sometimes the “appearance” part of losing the cover of regular clothes can be even worse. These are perfectly normal reactions and emotions, especially after going through something that can affect your self-image and self-esteem. Most people who have been through a life-changing illness or physical injury have to struggle with resolving their previous self-image and their current reality. I went through this and by sharing my story, I hope it will help you!

Twelve years ago, I was in a severe car accident and came out of the experience a bilateral below-knee amputee. This completely turned my self-image upside down. At first, I went through a phase where I was ashamed and embarrassed of my appearance. I did everything I could think of to hide my “new reality” because I did not want anyone to realize I was different. People who know me notice that I walk without a limp. This is because from the very beginning, I was obsessed with practicing my walk in hopes of fooling the world. My attitude about trying to disguise my condition did not change until I met my wife, Andrea.

One thing Andrea and I share is our joy in being able to help others. After lots of convincing from her, I realized I could help others by not hiding who I was (and am) and to just be myself. I swore that if I could help others through a time like I was going through, I would do whatever it took. At first, I was extremely self-conscious and very anxious whenever I would go out in public with my prosthetics “exposed”. And then I found that, after “just doing it”, and beginning to speak about my experience to others in the same situation, my perception about myself, and about what others might be thinking about how I looked, started to change.

Yep. As with many things in life, it’s all about perception and practice. The more I got out there, the more I began to feel comfortable with myself, and realized I needed to be looking at my ‘new’ situation differently. My bi-lateral amputee status does not make me abnormal or weak — I now see it as a symbol of my own strength. When we can persevere in the face of life-changing obstacles, that’s when our true inner strength and courage will shine. Once I began seeing things from this perspective I realized my self-esteem had increased, my confidence had increased — and all because I allowed myself to believe that I can still accomplish whatever goals I set for myself — even now, as an amputee. I moved myself from a place of surviving, to a place where I am thriving. I believe anyone can achieve what they desire. Yes, the equipment we use might be a little different and the training is definitely designed to accommodate our physical differences…and it’s never easy. But whether it’s a dip in the pool, a bike ride or even a run with friends, now I proudly display my prosthetics and scars as trophies of a battle in which I was victorious.

In our society, we are always on the lookout for heroes. We love to find that Next New Person who has done something amazing, especially in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. So, my advice is, “go for it.” Be that hero. And remember, you control how others see you. And at the end of the day, it’s how you see yourself that’s the most important thing of all.

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