Stay in the race! – by Leslie Nelson and Terry Howard

Psst, readers, please read my quote and let it sink in before we start this narrative:

“One of the most difficult challenges in having a disability, or being of a certain age, race, gender, religion, etc., is that too often people see it and not you!”

Admit it or not, we all hold unconscious biases, including yours truly. We’re hard-wired that way. However, among the perspective altering vicissitudes in life are those instances that unearth our unhidden biases sometimes – correction, most of the time – to our discomfort.

To make the point, let’s highlight our notions about age and aging. After that, I’ll turn this narrative over to my esteemed colleague Leslie Nelson who’ll shine light on matters of physical, mental and intellectual disabilities.  

First, although I’ve learned to have a thesaurus within easy reach whenever I read her stuff, nevertheless I love columns by New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Maureen Dowd. And, yes, admittedly I have this affinity for Pulitzer Prize winners from all stripes.

Now to get to the point of this piece, writing recently about the age-related speculation buzzing about whether or not President Joe Biden will run for a second term (“Scranton Joe Is Ready to Go”), a vintage Dowd inserted the following lines from Shakespeare’s King Lear in her column:

“He (Biden) has no intention of following Lear’s lead… “to shake all cares and business from our age/Conferring them on younger strengths, while we /Unbridled crawl towards death.” She goes on to say, “Let Lear howl at the moon; Joe wants to strut in the sun (with his shades.)”

With craftiness developed and fine-tuned from decades in politics, Biden batted aside nasty catcalls and cast a damper on cries that he should step aside from many others, including Dowd herself and her colleagues, because of his age. Okay, in the spirit of transparency, the thought did run through my mind as well, in case you’re wondering.  

Now with age as an example, Biden’s strength of resolve is translatable to many other real or imagined barriers in life. Hey, look no further than the National Football League and its ongoing history of passing over highly qualified African American assistant coaches for head coaching opportunities. For so many of them, their resolve to “stay in the race” is severely tested when those jobs go to candidates far less qualified, whose owners are more comfortable with. 

Look no further than those employees who “stay in the race” while languishing for years in their jobs while others around them, sometimes less qualified, get promoted.

Look no further than those who decided to “stay in the race” despite having to deal with a cancer diagnosis or other life-threatening health issues.

Look no further than the wrestling coach who was determined to “stay in the race” despite getting passed over for head coaching opportunities, discrimination and a hearing impairment to finally being named “National Wrestling Coach of The Year!”

Look no further than those single moms who had to “stay in the race” while struggling to raise their offspring under the most trying of circumstances.

Look no further than those scores of courageous veterans who lost limbs in Afghanistan, Iraq and other wars who today are “staying in the race” while fitted with prosthetics.

Look no further than those who “stay in the race” to overcome biases and challenges that accompany physical, mental and intellectual disabilities. Case in point, and my segue to Leslie Nelson, let’s highlight Wilma Rudolph who was the first born of 22 children. 

As a child she developed scarlet fever, pneumonia, measles, chicken pox and polio which left her unable to use one of her legs. Doctors told her that she would never walk again but her mother told her to “stay in the race.” 

Wilma – a sprinter mind you – would eventually become the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic game, this by an individual who was told that she would never walk again!

Now like Wilma Rudolph handed off her baton to a fellow runner during the Olympics, I hand this off now to Leslie Nelson.

All yours Leslie Nelson.

“The accomplishments of Special Olympics athletes and the success of numerous disability advocates and organizations disprove the notion that people with severe disabilities aren’t employable,” wrote Nelson.

“While I’m not a betting person, the odds are stacked high against me beating a Special Olympics athlete in any sport. No siree Bob – I won’t even get on the field.”

But on a more serious note, says Nelson, “every single day our country benefits from the abilities of those with severe disabilities, from producing clothing for members of the armed forces, to connecting soldiers with their loved ones, to cleaning and maintaining federal facilities nationwide.” 

“Oh, did I also mention that the U.S. flag is mass produced by people with severe disabilities? If you still don’t believe me then believe the federal website.”

“Yes, when it comes to people and their physical and age-related disabilities, says Nelson, “we need to stop all this nonsensical banter about who can do what and for how long. Donald Rumsfeld said it best “…there are things we don’t know we don’t know. So, if our President of a certain age says he’s still in the race, who am I to say differently?”

In closing and in parting, stay in the race, go strut in the sun (with or without your sunglasses on) whatever your lot in life!

© Leslie Nelson and Terry Howard are members of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild.

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