Friday, March 26, 2010

Welcome to 'Recreational Volleyball', and 'Walk with me'

One week to Sakura-Con, and still some hotel issues, so if you have question please contact Linda, at Linda.McClung at Also if you are coming can you email her so we can arrange a meeting place, please?

A new Postcard Project blog post here.

Last night I started my introduction to ‘integrated Volleyball’. That is what I call, they call it ‘Beginners and Intermediate Recreational Volleyball’ at the Y. I had been trying to get in since October last year and was seventh on the list and first on the wait list at the beginning of the year. There is supposed to be six people per team PLUS 2 people to rotate in per team. When I went last night, there were 5 people per team and that was it, except me coming on, so we were missing 11-12 players. The organizer said they could not be officially dropped until they called and SAID they were going to drop. Well, gee, that makes me, who has been waiting for so long, and the people on the wait list behind me feel warm and not at all like this was a clique club that you are either in or not.

The organizer was trying not to be open about getting rid of me, and after I made it clear I had been waiting since October on the waitlist for volleyball, he gave up. I told him that I HAD called the Volleyball organizer to tell her I was in a wheelchair several times AND I had specifically asked to come to the first meeting to get an orientation and been told, “No, wait until THEY call you.” He wanted to know who said that, and I told him it was the person in charge of ‘drop in’ at the Y, but I had called the organizer of volleyball.

I hit a ball underhand to see if I could get it over the net and that was about it. The teams were organized.

I knew it was going to be hell. And at the same time I was totally determined to be there, I was still dreading it. Here were able bodied people who were playing at the Men’s level net (about 8 feet high), and the women’s started a notch below that. So ‘accommodation’ to the women who played was to put the net HIGHER than the level to women, to make sure the MEN got a good game. Nice. So only one or two men could spike (as I found out as one nailed my shoulder with a volleyball) but the six foot woman on my team couldn’t. And this was RECREATIONAL volleyball. Though it played a lot like ‘Death Match’ volleyball as at first only the one woman on the team would talk to me, and then one guy. After the first game, the rest of the guys simply walked away from me and formed a group to talk about the game.

I, of course, had NEVER played volleyball in a wheelchair, and it took a couple games and me saying "Sorry!" a billion times until finally: “look, if it goes behind me, I CAN’T get it.” for the able bodied players to cover me. Here I am finding my range as a ball goes ‘just over’ my head.. Notice the teammate ready to cover me. There were lots of ‘You should just roll back” or “You should just roll a bit sideways” (yeah, look at the sideways rolling on most wheelchairs!), or “Why don’t you do setting more.” (using both hands to toss the ball up): to which I explained that I had a very small window where I could use a double hand set, above me, and if it went to the left or right, I could only use an closed fist to 'bop it', and it was a learning curve (steep) to find out what worked and at what angle.

Since 2000, instead of needing to have ‘possession’ of the volleyball it means that EVERY mistake means you lost a point for your team. So if I try to hit a ball and it goes off, we lost a point; if I serve into the net, we lose a point. Just like that. Sigh.

I had learned from badminton that if I a) showed a level of effort about 4 or 5 times that of any other player there and b) bled or bruised and c) got immediately as competent as the worte player who had played for three to six months then I would be accepted by half the players. After I dove out of the chair a few times and one of the setters said, “Here you go, and then set it to far over my head so I, the chair and all fell sideways tossing me a ways (about 5 times being totally thrown from the chair), then some people would warm up. So after a while two more people on my team would talk to me. Two others never did, nor did several others on the other team. I cheered people’s plays, I focused, I got hits and recieved the ball and got it over the net, but still for about 70 minutes it was at atmosphere of ‘Fuck! Why are we saddled with ‘this’’ (I am 'this') attitude.

Finally some people talked to me or said good hit, or ‘close hit’ like this one which almost went over the net, but didn’t quite. One woman on one of the teams we played cheered a lot and when I made a good shot she said, “You GO girl!” which was more than my own team had done. But then, I was there to prove that a) doing volleyball in a wheelchair was possible and b) working to show people there that I could play and WAS going to stay, so get used to it. I see it like seeds, that each of these people will go out knowing that it is possible, and when another wheelie joins somewhere else they will say, "No, I remember, there was this woman who came to the Y I was at and played."

I’d like to say that it wasn’t painful when the organizer joined the team playing AGAINST ours at the start, but that would be a lie. Or that having everyone make clear that they were losing because of me wasn’t painful. I mean this was ‘Recreational’ volleyball, but when you are visably different and the first person to do something, there is always going to be resistance. That is why I was glad when we lost but lost 22-25 and then the next game, I served us to victory of 27-25. It proved that EVEN with me on the team, we could still win (still had two people walk off from me instead of shake hands at the end of that).

I sort of enjoyed it, but it was very, very exhausting, two straight hours with no break for me at all. After I came home and did some cleaning I feel asleep at the computer which I had not done before, and of course, on pain killers. I have been on pain killers to function since boxing on Monday and now I am a LOT more pain. OW. But I am going to go back, and I am going to get better. And maybe one day it will be fun. I know that it makes no sense to most that I would do a sport where people kinda groan if they find out they are playing with me. A sport where it is supposed to be beginner level but they don't stop to help a beginner, and a sport which leaves me in pain. But I have done the following sports against able bodied opponents and I do not have good nerve response, autonomic response and range of motion - all from a wheelchair: Tennis (singles, doubles), badminton (doubles, singles), boxing, rock climbing, 5K road race, 10K road race, cycling and now Volleyball. Dream the impossible, attempt the impossible, do the impossible.

Apparently there is a rule which lets you use your foot to kick the volleyball (??). I was asked, “So do you stand up to hit?”, “When are you going to stand up?” and “So you can kick the ball when you want” – all despite the fact that my legs were strapped into my wheelchair. I did however do a header on a served ball that was coming close enough to me, so I did a soccer/football head butt on it from the chair. Floor Hockey is on my list of 'to do' too.

Why is there so much anti-wheelchair prejudice when I play sports with able bodied people? I can’t say for sure but these are my guesses. 1) Even though I am pretty much working my way through every sport at the Y, event organizers, no matter how much notification is involved or given, do nothing in terms of planning accommodation or integration leaving supervisors to do what they ‘feel’. 2) Individuals need to be told, taught and learn that I will NEVER play like an able body person and so how they play around ME has to change compared to other players (different is not 'bad' has to be learned too) as how I try to play the sport effectively changes 3) Any time you have a group of guys playing, you might call it ‘Recreational’ and ‘Drop In’ but it is about winning, and when someone is losing points then that person is resented. 4) Linda noted that because the players had never worked with anyone with a wheelchair, for the first two games (1 hour), they simply acted as if I wasn’t there. So if I was up the front, they would set to the other person up front, or even set over my head to get across me, or set BACK to the back people (actually not legal) to avoid me hitting the ball. Eventually I said, “Look, if I don’t get to HIT, how am I supposed to get better or learn from mistakes?” – so as time went on, I did hit some over and then some people got more accepting. 5) People have preset ideas about people in wheelchairs, or just ignorance. If they have been doing drop in volleyball for several years at the Y and I am the first wheelie to show up, people have no real idea of the limitations of a wheelchair (like we don’t move sideways, we are not tall nor do I leap for the top of the net), and carry into to court whatever ideas they have about people with disabilities/in wheelchairs.

What could have been done? 1) They could have included me from the beginning, so as the new beginners learn, I am not the only one making mistakes. Also, there were supposed to be 8 people a team, and there was 5, that is 40% missing and yet they don’t bring in new players off the waiting list, making it a clique atmosphere (plus no breaks or medical accomodation- often I would be adjusting my wheelchair or leg strap only to find the other team had served). 2) They could mix the genders on the team more, or put me to start on a team where there are more ‘teacher’ or very skilled but patient personalities. Or just a bunch of girls who want to have fun (that was the last team, who had three girls and two guys and there was lots of talking and sometimes some yelling, and one guy going, “Oh, geez, I don’t think you screamed loud enough in my ear when you missed that.” Haha. 3) They could lead by example, having the supervisor switch out players or talk to players on how to play more effectively with a wheelchair (which they are supposed to be doing for all players, so no player is discriminated against – this does happen sometimes in badminton, one very good supervisor simply would walk on court and pull players and say, to others, ‘you are coming in here now’ – it set a very clear standard of what kind of behavior was acceptable). 4) Lower the DAMN nets to the women’s height of 7 feet and 4 inches. While the ‘official’ rules make that nets be at the ‘men’s height’ of 8 feet in co-ed competition, the problem is this ISN’T competition but RECREATIONAL drop in to play for fun and skills. How is a woman of 5’6” supposed to jump high enough to block a spike that is up at eight foot and 8 inches? No one here is going to be a pro, so why not improve the nature of the game for everyone. Unless it is a deliberate decision to eliminate play at the net. For me, at the net (able to wheel under it without bending down), trying to get a ball over the net much less deal with blocking or spikes is a joke. But then, I am supposed to be over with other wheelies doing some variation imagined by able bodied people. Except it is just me. So screw that.

And as for ‘Co-Ed Drop In Basketball’ – of which no women attend, there are men, sweat, a lot of testerone, grunting and shoving to win, if I make it to autumn, I am coming to that as well. Might as well be the first woman AND the first wheelie to join that drop in group. Get these organizers to get it in the head that ‘Recreational’ means ‘fun for ALL’ not some form of ‘survival of the fittest’ where any disability or slow learning curve is discouraged into leaving.

Maybe I’m just irritated because my ‘new’ therapist on issues dealing with pain and terminal didn't work out and said at the end of the session, “Our time is at an end.” I pointed out that might not be the BEST phrase, and they said, “I didn’t say ‘Your time is over.” But ‘Our time.” Then they told me, ‘Walk with me” as I rolled and talked toward the elevator. I knew it wasn’t a great match, when they talked about a 'good' doctor for a terminal disease as one who ‘Brings in alternative medicines’. Oddly, I think palliative cancer patients might like MORPHINE more than aromatherapy (or at least the morphine before the aromatheraphy). And when I asked for 5 suggestions on what we could do, or even 3, I got one, “We could try relaxation and meditation techniques”, on what? “Letting yourself go.”

I said, “You are aware the only way I can function at this level of constant pain is to NEVER relax until I take my ‘super pain meds’ at the end of the day which still leaving me groaning and begging for relief?" They were. "And you want me to 'relax' to 'let it all in?'"

They started to ummm and 'well'

I asked if she had ANY cancer patients. No. Sigh. It was a poor match. She was the type that corrected my sentences, and wanted to be right. When fighting 'word salad' and speech difficulties that is highly annoying. So when she told me, “Of course, I can’t know what you are going through.” It was the 'Oh Fuck!' moment. Since that is exactly what I was paying to come to you, because you said you did have some idea, had terminal patients.

I asked her if she ever bought anything at Starbucks. She did that pause that checks for a trap and say, “yes, often.”

I asked, “Do you tell the person when you pay that you can’t know what they are going through?”

Oh, she didn’t like that. “No, but I do freely admit when there are experiences I don’t have.”

I asked, “Oh, so you HAVE worked at Starbucks then?” She stared at me with THAT expression (if THAT expression worked, I would have been teleported to many different planets FAR AWAY during my life).

She said “Is there any point to your filling out a ‘satisfaction survey’?”

I picked up one of her books from her row of books for clients and opened up ‘Letting go of Anger’ and said, “We could put it in here.” A laugh.


wendryn said...

Wow - still kicking ass, despite the need for pain meds. I'm impressed. My experience with volleyball includes getting smacked with the ball multiple times. You are braver than I am! Especially dealing with people who aren't particularly accepting. Glad you won the second game!

The therapist sounds like she's trying to be kind. Unfortunately, she's succeeding in being useless, which really sucks for you.

I hope you have time this weekend to rebuild reserves so you can keep trying new things and doing things you already know you like!

Linda McClung said...

Beth, I think you were amazing last night. You hadn't touched a volley ball in over 15 years and after 10 minutes you were on the court playing a game. Control over bumping the ball with your fists came to you quite quickly. There was a huge improvement between the first and second game.

It upset me when people played over you, but I think you are right - they need to be educated. And if it means me having a meeting with the coach and co-ordinator like I did with badminton, then I'll do it. I think the coach needs to set the example. He seemed like an okay - but passive - guy. He needs to lead by example.

I imagine there is also more pressure on you when playing volleyball than there was when playing badminton. Because with badminton it was just you and your partner and now you have 4 or more others on your team. I know you don't want to let them down. I think I'd have a hard time dealing with the extra pressure.

I agree with all your reasons why there is the wheelchair prejudice. And I really like all your suggestions - especially the one about lowering the nets. Did you happen to hear if any of the other women would like the nets lower?

I really wish the counsellor would have worked out for you. I'm sorry it didn't.

cheryl g said...

I don't understand why some people define recreational as "win at all costs - we could have been pro". I enjoy recreational sports for the camaraderie, social interaction and fun - not because I am there to always crush my opponents.

While in college, I once asked a guy at recreational volleyball, who had spent the night spiking the ball like he was trying to punch a hole in the floor, if he was having fun. He replied, "I'm not here for fun. I'm here to win!"

The most fun I had playing badminton was when it was Linda, you, me and that really nice rec director. I was/am disgusted by the arrogant and cliqueish vibe so many of the players put out.

I am glad you went and persevered. Maybe some of the players will actually learn to be more tolerant and open to others.

Does Canada have a program where medicos and therapist have there ability to empathize removed?

Neil said...

You go, indeed! Did you at least manage to sweat?

Cheryl, the situation with doctors isn't any better here on the Prairies. And we have a batch of towns without doctors, because they don't want the slow pace of small town life. If I didn't know better, I'd wonder if they are just in it for the money.

Beth, I'll cheer for your team every time. You're the real winner from that volleyball session.

Love and zen hugs,

FridaWrites said...

I am hoping the other players will become warmer to you with time. They should be right away and for me there's always the "why wasn't I okay for you in the first place; why am I acceptable now just because you're accustomed to me?" Other people often won't deal with their own discomfort or a new situation, not realizing that what we're going through because of their behavior is so much more difficult than their slight and temporary discomfort.

Bonnie said...

THAT is why I hatehatehate 'team' sports. Because it's not about teams, it's about cliques. And winning. And being the best.

And as for that 'therapist'? What a maroon, as Bugs Bunny says. You know what I'm hearing? Her wanting to coach you into peaceful acceptance, some kind of Zen dying process, with her as the Mighty Guru of Death.

I believe the problem is that you are way to busy living to bother with such crap.

Perhaps you would do better with a life coach (except that they would be skeeved out by the disease process, the wheelchair, the medicalese...unless you found a winner). Damn. *I* could do better than that so-called therapist.

Correcting the speech of someone with verbal issues? NOT therapeutic at all, and is something that is covered in my very first learn to be a nursey type person class as an LPN. Seriously, it is Nursing 100 level stuff.

What a maroon.

By the way, I know you were corsets and wristies and such, but what about jewelry? What do you and Beth wear? I never see jewelry in your pics, and that's generally one of the Goth staples.

Vanessa said...

UGH! *growl* I HATE when people act like that! You know, you may be in a wheelchair but they are the ones that are handicapped. Geez people are so ignorant and cruel!

I'm so amazed that you get out and do what you do despite the odds, obsticles, and your level of pain. I've played sports with wheelchair users and the fierce determination is stunning. The effort and heart made them daunting foes and excellent team mates. It saddens me that the people playing there could't appreciate that in you.

And as far as your therapist goes I would've kicked her in the shin if I had been standing there. Gawd "higher than thou" behavior? Seriously? You are terminally ill, not a debate opponent designed to make her feel smarter. It's that kind of pompous behavior that causes me to seriously doubt the entire medical system as we know it.

Baba Yaga said...

Dual reaction: A. You never cease to amaze me. Good for you!

& B. Morphine or aromatherapy? Yes, morphine every time. Morphine or "letting yourself go" (um, is it me, or was that a particularly unfortunate turn of phrase?) - still morphine.

Which is not to speak any ill of meditation in its right place. But its right place isn't as a *substitute* for all the other stuff. (Is the woman living in some fantasy of death without the dying?)

I fear you're well rid of that therapist; and, speaking as one who has been well rid of far too many 'professionals' for comfort, that rather stinks.

"Wheel sideways" made me cackle in rather a witchy fashion. But gawd 'elp us! I would have *expected cluelessness to manifest itself in over-solicitous inclusion, rather than the tactics you keep on meeting. It's rather dispiriting to be wrong.

yanub said...

I read recently that a wheelchair that moves sideways has indeed been invented. Next time someone tells you to move your wheelchair sideways, you can make big sad eyes at them and say something about how, if only someone would do a benefit fundraiser, you could have the miracle chair. I suggest this only because I'm curious if any of them would bite and raise money for a chair that would make it easier for you to play a game they rather you weren't playing.

Personally, I hate team sports, most sports, in fact, because of exactly the sort of people you were dealing with. To me, a game that excludes those who'd like to play is no fun at all and people who are more interested in competition than community not worth spending my time on. Your tolerance for their crappy attitude is astounding.

A therapist suggesting that all you need to relax. How sadly not surprising. Aromatherapy. Maybe a nice cup of chamomile tea while listening to whale song? Yeah, just let go of that anger, and you will be all 100% again after your trip to Lourdes and a detox enema. How do these people get licenses? Based on what skill set? The ability to utter complete nonsense? I like where you suggested sticking the satisfaction survey.

Raccoon said...

I found one site that talked about "wheelchair" volleyball. All the rest talked about "sitting" volleyball, which was played by sitting on the floor, which is how they played in the Paralympics.

What ever happened to "playing games for fun"? Not everything is supposed to be a competition! Heh. I can see them being competitive at Tai Chi...

Maybe it's time for wheelchair fencing?

I've given up you finding a decent doctor. Not that you should stop looking! Just...


Lene Andersen said...

Those idiots at the Y infuriate me. Their bleedin' MANDATE is to work with the community, encouraging all to participate and somehow, they seem to ignore that. As for the idiots on your team not knowing a chair doesn't move sideways... well. Dudes? Does your car drive sideways? No? Then why would any other vehicle-type thing with 4 wheels? It's simple!

Glad you showed 'em! And the photos are great!

As for your therapist. Again: sigh. Mind if I come smack her?

Olivia said...

Ask them if they can drive a car sideways?

Linda's comment shows what a wonderful athlete you are. You have natural skills and instincts but even more, the focus to determination to adapt and improve quickly. I'm sorry it was a battle for acceptance. Yes they need to learn.

I'm putting the DVD in the mail for you today, I hope it travels fast.