Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Paralympic Day Teaches Youngsters About Finding a New Way
Alaska Sewell and Willa Connolly don’t mind getting a little paint on the feet as they considered how it might be to paint if they couldn’t use their hands.
Friday, May 31, 2019


Jack Margolin stripped his sock off his right foot. Then he curled his big toe around a paintbrush. He dipped the paintbrush in black paint, then proceeded to swish the brush across a piece of paper, creating an abstract piece of art.

“It’s so much fun—I don’t even know how to explain what it feels like,” said the Hemingway STEAM School fifth-grader.

Margolin and his fellow fifth-graders were taking part in Paralympic Day, an event staged by Higher Ground Sun Valley to educate schoolchildren about disabilities and how it’s possible to achieve in spite of them.

The youngsters ended up with paintings that resembled Rorschach tests.

“We’re not just talking about people who are paralyzed but the blind, as well,” Higher Ground’s Cara Barrett told them. “And many of you may know about Special Olympics, which involves people with Down syndrome and cognitive disabilities.”

Youngsters got to experience first-hand what it might be like living with a disability as they wheeled around in wheelchairs, tried a handcycle and took part in a sit-down volleyball game.

They tried painting blindfolded.

“It’s really hard,” said Alaska Sewell.

Students learned it didn’t hurt to have friends to guide the paint to the brush.

 “Not being able to see, I have to feel the paper,” added Willa Connolly.

The youngsters loved rolling around in the wheelchairs that Higher Ground provided.

“It’s awesome” said Bryce Phillips. “And it’s fun. But I guess it would be easier if you can just walk.”

And their awareness of things that are readily apparent to the disabled grew as they took part in a scavenger hunt in which they identified wheelchair cuts in the sidewalk and handicapped parking spaces in the parking lot.

Muffy Davis, who appeared with Cara Barrett, told the youngsters how she had a cheetah painted on her racing helmet because it’s the fastest animal on earth.

“One of the hallways has braille signs that I can touch,” noted one student. “But the others are nearly as high as the ceiling. I don’t know anyone who could reach those to feel them!”

U.S. Paralympic Medalist and Idaho Legislator Muffy Davis, who grew up in Sun Valley and still makes her home here, told the youngsters that she has seen a myriad of ways in which people have worked through their disabilities, including a friend who paints holding the paintbrush between her teeth.

Davis was paralyzed at age 16 while training for ski racing. She went back to skiing a few years later using a monoski, which resembles a bucket seat sitting atop a ski, and went on to win multiple medals in the Paralympics at Nagano, Japan and Salt Lake City. She later took up handcycling and brought back three gold medals from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, all of which she pulled out of a little pink bag to show the youngsters.

She gestured towards her handcycle.

The youngsters checked out the aerodynamic capability of the handcycle.

“This bike didn’t exist when I broke my back,” said Davis, who holds the Guinness World Record for most medals won in road cycling. “And, when I was first injured, I didn’t know about the Paralympics.”

Davis recounted how she was 7 when she told her parents she was going to race in the Olympics

“Do any of you have goals?” she asked.

Hands shot up, as one young man said he wanted to be a photographer. A girl said she wanted to be a soccer player, while another student said she wanted to be a figure skater. Still another shared his dreams of being an architect.

“Those of you who didn’t raise their hands, I want you to think about why it’s so important to have goals. It’s so important because it’s something that makes you get up every day,” she said, recounting the times she dragged herself out of bed to train for races even when the weather was awful.

At 16 Davis was invited to race in Europe. But her dreams seemed to evaporate when she caught an edge on an icy cat track on her 215-centimeter skis and smashed into a tree.

She held up the heavy black helmet she was wearing that day, showing the long, jagged crack that ran through the front.

“Your brain and spinal cord don’t heal so that’s the reason we put on helmets when we ski or bike,” she said. “We need to protect our brain because we don’t know how to fix it…And, even if they put a cast on my back, those nerve cells don’t heal. That’s why I’m paralyzed from the chest down.”

She looked around at the kids.

“Science and technology are trying to find a cure…maybe one of you will be the one to find that cure.”

Davis told the children that she achieved her dreams of ski racing at the world’s highest level when she competed in Paralympics and adaptive World Cup races at same venues that able-bodied skiers compete.

“I thought my goal was over and instead I found a new way. I learned I could do a lot of the same things—just in a different way,” she said. “Is different less? No. ‘Para’ means ‘parallel to the Olympics.’ ”

The youngsters asked a myriad of questions, quizzing Davis on how she takes a shower (sitting on a bench with a handheld nozzle) to whether she can feel with her legs. “Some people can walk but can’t feel their legs,” she told them.

She added that she transfers from her wheelchair to her monoski by placing the ski against the car and jumping.

“Sometimes I miss and fall. And that’s okay. We all make mistakes,” she said.

Davis, who serves on the Paralympics governing board, told the students that two in three Britons changed their attitude about people with disabilities because of the London Paralympics.

“You’re going to have challenges. You’re going to get knocked down. But don’t give up. Remember what those medals felt like,” she said.




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