You'll Never Get Me Out!

I am going to tell you a silly story that ended up having a huge impact on the way I think of myself:

We sat in a circle on the gym floor, watching our P.E. teacher dumping out plush foam balls from a mesh net. She was trying to scatter them around and make sure that no side had "more" or "less" ammunition later on. Meanwhile my classmates and I sat wriggling around restlessly, excited to get the game started. It was one of our favorite games: dodge ball.

In elementary school, at that age, kids tend to be very literal with everything that they see. At that point I defined a lot of myself in connection to my wheelchair - my sense of self was everything that I could do in my wheelchair, a few things I could do out of my wheelchair, and the things that I just couldn't do without help. My friends knew that I would never be the 'door holder' for the class that day, and I wouldn't be joining them at recess for a muddy game of soccer later on. Needless to say it was easy for them, and even myself, to get my wheelchair and my identity blurred.

That is, except for when we played dodge ball.

"Now remember, if you throw a ball and it hits someone above their neck it will not count and YOU will be the one out of the game!" Our P.E. teacher would warn us. 
Next she would tell us to line up along the wall, and we would scramble into order - trying to out-guess the numbers she would have us count off and divide us into our two teams. We would tell our friends to skip every other person, thinking that if we counted off by two's we'd wind up on the same team. 
"Alright let's count off by 4's.. starting here.." 
"1, 2, 3, 4.. 1, 2, 3, 4, ..." 
After the last kid counted off our teacher said, "okay! All the 2's and 3's on that side of the gym and the 1's and 4's on that side.." 
There would be a mad scramble to our appropriate sides, I'd push myself to the side I was on - my aide close behind. 
"And remember - if you hit Sandy's wheelchair she doesn't get out! You have to get her out, not the chair!" My P.E. teacher hollered after us. We spaced out on our opposing sides, she would stand in the middle against the wall - whistle at the ready in her lips... 

Of course I never consciously thought about the fact that my wheelchair was not me as my aide handed me balls to throw at my classmates. I was too busy winning, and smirking at my friends trying to aim at my tiny 'strike zone.' But it doesn't matter that no one actually sat me down and said "Sandy, you are not your wheelchair. Your wheelchair is a mobility aide.." In fact I think that this was an absolutely brilliant way of showing me how what seems like a barrier doesn't define me, or be the way that others view me. It would be years past my fifth grade 'graduation' before I figured out that my wheelchair isn't 'me,' but I'm truly thankful for the idea having been planted in my head at a young age. 

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