TIJ Blog Post – James Gilliard: Jumping Hurdles

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As I’ve continued to add events to my 2015 and 2016 calendar, I see very few that talk about athletes with disabilities (AWD) as part of their registration process. Now that’s not to say that the Race Organizers (ROs) in general aren’t receptive to AWD athletes. Far from it – especially since I’ve had two different ones respond in less than 10 minutes both essentially saying ‘we’d love to have you, what do you need from us?’
Knowing that, I think one of the reasons that I’m not seeing that many AWD athletes out there with me is that they’ve had bad experiences with the minority of people that are petty jerks. I believe that those bad experiences in a more ‘private’ arena (i.e. one person being a jerk to them because of their disabilities) makes them not want to deal with the potential of this on a much larger public scale.

I know that’s a hard hurdle to get over, especially if/when those comments or even exclusion because of the disability comes from those close to you. But there are two important things to realize that should help you to clear it.

One is that there are always going to be petty jerks in the world, and if you let them define what you think/do, then you’re going to be a hermit for your entire life. Don’t let them define you or ‘win’.

The other is to remember that for every one person that wants to put you down, there are at least fifty that will encourage and lift you up and support you.

I know that all of that may be easy for me to just say, so let me back it up with an example. At some point within the last five years, my misjudgment of something because of my vision issues led to a viral video. The comments from the faceless petty jerks were rough to say the least (including ‘get out of the gene pool’). While the roughest ones like the gene pool one were removed, people have continued to have fun at my expense since. Now I could have looked at those comments and said ‘oh no, I’ve made this mistake. Time to run and hide.’ But that wouldn’t have done any good, and it’s simply not in my makeup to run and hide. The people who matter know and knew the full story, and those were the opinions that I listened to. I’ve continued to go out and do publicly visible things since, with the mindset that I can’t worry about all of that. If I stumble, and if it ends up as another viral video, then I’ll deal with it as I did with the last. I know that EVERY person reading this has and will have some sort of stumble in their daily life. It may not end up on YouTube, but it’ll happen.

And to the point of more people supporting you than pulling you down, I’ll go back to my comments in the last blog post. I lost count of the number of people who kept saying ‘great job’, ‘keep it up’, ‘keep going’, and other words of encouragement when we were running the Shuffle. As a further thought to that point, I didn’t hear a negative word or see one in print (blogs, etc.) after the race.

So, here’s my challenge to each one of you reading this. Go and do something this week that’s outside of your comfort zone to push yourself. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines out of fear, go run your first race, even if it’s just a fun run. If you’ve been wanting to do a specific race, push towards it. But the most important thing is to take the first step out of your comfort zone. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding.

Personally, because I’ve done that, I’ve got a great network of resources (coaches, guides, etc.) that help me and help to push me. For me, that step out of the comfort zone this week was to register for a half marathon in 2016. That will be twice my longest distance for 2015 at this point, and four times my longest from 2014. While it will be a challenge, I know that I’ve got the people to help me and that even if it doesn’t turn out perfect, that it will still be a success!

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