I’ve known Sonny Davis for over 10 years now and have always been impressed by him both personally and physically. When I say physically, I mean both as an athlete and as an accomplished musician. I thought this would be a perfect article to post during the Paralympics because Sonny for many years dedicated himself to trying to become a Paralympian. I think it’s an illuminating article in terms of how hard it is to become a Paralympian and in terms of one of the challenges of Parlympic sport which is the classification of athletes. I think it also hits on one of the themes of this blog which is why so many of us are still motivated to try new things and to try to get better at whatever it is we do – the challenge. Remember this is only part 1 and I will post part 2 on Wednesday and if you want to read Sonny’s story in its entirety, visit www.marathonoffreedom.com. Enjoy the article.
Greetings. I go by Sonny Davis. A few years ago it was a personal dream of mine to become a Paralympian. At age 5 doctors diagnosed me with a neural muscular disorder called Charcot Marie Tooth disease, which is a form of Muscular Dystrophy. There is a degeneration of muscle and nerve present in my legs and my hands. I live a “walk and roll” lifestyle. Some days I feel good to walk and others I’ll take to the chair ergo: “Sonny and Chair”
In sport, due to my condition, classification has always been a grey area for me. During my competitive years I never once met an athlete with Muscular Dystrophy. As far as my coach and I knew, I was the only one. This was a blessing and a curse, for my abilities far outweighed my disabilities. I have pushed wheelchair all my life. In spite of wasting and atrophy in my forearms and hands, I have developed great upper body strength and I can sit up soldier straight in a race chair. This is an important detail when classifying disabled athletes.
People are confused when they see me rolling in a chair one day and the next I’m up and walking with a cane. “It’s a miracle!” But to someone who is classifying me as an athlete and gauging my current stamina to my projected strength, this was, I imagine, a complete headache. Wheelchair athletics is divided into classes of skill and ability, like boxing is divided into weight classes. I raced in a variety of classes throughout my racing career. If I race in too high a class, I start off with the leaders, but my weakness for sprinting kicks in and I quickly fall behind. Too low a class, and I don’t feel particularly sportsmanlike. After a couple of years’ racing experience, my coach and I knew exactly where I’d be most competitive. Any hopes of making it to the Beijing Paralympics would solely depend on being cleared for that class by the qualifying judges.
Japan was my very first marathon. The competition was unbelievable. Athletes from all over the globe showed up to this world-renowned event and the good news was that I was finally given the classification I so desired to achieve. Now I just had to put my head down, do my best and finish the race.
I knew the finish line wasn’t far. The volume of the crowd peaked as I entered the stadium. Only three racers in my class were in front of me now. They worked together and took turns drafting each other the whole way. I had successfully pursued them and was about to receive the thrill of victory. The track was fast and I was determined to finish strong. Four hundred meters to go, feeling stronger than ever, I was now gaining speed to the right of the trio; I would overtake them on the first turn, or so I thought.
Suddenly, my front wheel jerked sharply to the side steering me right into the leader of the trio. Before I knew it we were all crashing and tumbling over one another. We must have looked like a pile of dying transformers. Damage sustained: right tire and fender bent totally out of shape, and just like that, it was over…but I wouldn’t accept that. I had come this far, the only thing left to do was push. I could hear the swell of the crowd, and could feel that some of those cheers were for me.
We must have looked like a pile of dying transformers.
Athletes zoomed by me, finishing with ease and finesse. I had lost my speed, my rank, even the chair I was sitting in but not my determination. The finish line wasn’t beyond me, it wasn’t out of reach. With every push, I was a few feet closer. I could just hear the crowd yelling “GO! KEEP GOING!”
I accepted my fate, and the fact that thousands of eyes just saw me transcend embarrassment. But my poor, damaged chair had got me this far, I would let it end the race with dignity… or maybe it was my own dignity at stake. Then I realize I’m not alone, I am joined by a fellow Canadian, Dana Halvorson. He generously matched my pace, and for the last 50 meters, we rode side by side. Head held high, I crossed the finish line with my countryman.
End of Part 1.