I apologize for not writing more. I’ve been thinking and planning for the climb a lot. My question remains the same as one I had as an athlete: How do I make a long lasting impression? I used to blame Paralympic organizers and sponsors because they didn’t do enough. We weren’t on television. They didn’t use us in commercials. We remained invisible. Paralympic sport moved the people who saw it, yet our reach was limited. Well, now it’s my turn and I might not get another chance. I have chosen to climb Mt Kilimanjaro because it’s the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, because no unassisted para has reached the top, and because the story of climbing a mountain is easier to understand than winning a Paralympic gold medal. But, I still have to tell the story and if we rush for the originally planned June ’08, we will compromise our ability to do it. As a result, we’ve postponed the climb to 2009. No specific date has been set, but I would like to target March 13, 2009, the day that marks half my life walking and half in a chair—my half-life. Plus, I’ve always been attracted to the numbers: 3, 9, and 13.
To tell the story we need visibility. I pledge to publish a blog every Friday from here on out. The website will be important too, but in order to make the necessary impression we need to move beyond the ordinary. We’ve had encouraging movement on both a documentary film and a television series, though the process has taken significantly longer than I anticipated. Sponsorship has lagged as well, mostly because we’ve chosen to move slowly—insuring that we are prepared before we approach corporate partners. The movie, TV and corporate sponsorship/partnership will be central to our success. We need to tell our story on a grander scale if we want people to notice.
In 2002 a group of athletes petitioned to make the Paralympic team. I don’t think that it went to court, but it was contentious. One of the athletes stated her case to some of us. She spoke in glowing terms about why she wanted to make the team. The Paralympics represented the pinnacle, like going to the Olympics. Much of me agreed with her or wanted to agree with her, but I said, “No one cares.” I didn’t say it to hurt her, but to illustrate our situation. Throughout that whole year, I’d worked for recognition for the Paralympics. I fully believed that it was great sport and great entertainment, but in my heart I knew that we’d be forgotten the moment the Games ended. We were fighting an uphill battle. Some people would enjoy the Paralympics and we’d be thankful for that, but afterwards we’d drift back to anonymity. It was the harsh truth—a truth that I didn’t want to admit to myself. I said, “No one cares,” but I meant, “ It’s up to you as it’s up to the rest of us to make someone care. The goal is not making the Paralympics. The goal is making someone care—making us relevant.” The assumption that no one cared was closer to the truth than not. Her job, like the rest of ours, was to make someone care. Could she do that? Could any of us do it?
I’m not sure if any of us can make people care. The US is a land of football, basketball and baseball. No one can tell us what we’re supposed to like. No one can tell us what’s right. Sport is entertainment. We watch to enjoy, to forget, to dream, and to imagine ourselves trading places with our heroes—to imagine ourselves as the hero. I love that. I love that watching sports gives us the opportunity to share a victory with our heroes. Their victory is our victory because we are all human beings. Their success hints at the possibilities for mankind. Will Paralympians ever be heroes on par with Ali, Williams, Montana, Spitz, Owens or Lewis? I don’t know. I do know that the only reason those people became our heroes was because we learned who they were. If no one ever watched them—if they never achieved the world stage, then they wouldn’t be our heroes. My goal isn’t to become your hero, but to introduce you to a group of people. A member of this group might become your hero just because you get to know him or her.