What I'd Like to Tell People With Disabilities Who Question If They Should Play Sports

Eileen Herzog

Ever since I was old enough to play sports I always participated, despite having relatively weak gross motor skills and a low level of endurance. Those around me couldn’t quite understand why I kept participating. However with wonderful coaches and strong family support, I was able to have a very positive experience. I hope by reading this, you see that it doesn’t matter if you are last in a race or sit on the bench for team sports. What matters most is that you are part of a team, forming strong bonds with teammates and coaches and learning how to persevere through the tough times.

As a young kid I played soccer, basketball and softball, but by middle school it was clear that individual sports like swimming and running were a better fit for me. While they were still hard, I found them easier for me than team sports. My resource room teacher questioned my parents decision to have me play sports. She felt my participation was going to impact me negatively, knowing that I was probably going to be one of  the slowest swimmers or runners on the team. But my parents assured her that I would be fine, and that I would benefit a great deal by being around my sister and her friends who were going to be on two of the teams. My experience, in fact, was very positive as it led me to be connected, something both my parents and I knew I needed as a middle school student.

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Once high school started, the challenges mounted and I started to lose some support. I initially thought my sports days were over as our swim team became too competitive, and in track I could  only run sprint races as I lacked the endurance for longer races. My parents however, had other ideas. They said to me, “Eileen we want you to do cross-country and we will find someone to train you, as it would allow you to be happier in track as you could do the distance events too. ” I was incredibly scared and started to believe that others may be right; that my career in sports was over because my neurological impairments have too much of a negative effect. Thankfully my coach believed hard work beats talent, along with being a strong believer in inclusion and being a great man to be around. So after a week of practice, the negative feelings quickly went away. As a result, I was able to show those in the field who Eileen Herzog really was. Most importantly, my coach became my strongest advocate and today is still one of my favorite people as he has a fantastic personality. His wonderful care and support gave me a better future. It’s disappointing to me when those with disabilities decide to end their time in sports; I know there are coaches like mine who enjoy coaching not just the best athletes, but also those who work hard and who are good teammates. I want those of you who are doubting yourselves to remember this.

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As time went on I continued to be the weakest runner in terms of talent. Thankfully my coach was so amazing to me so I could see my purpose on my team — I was the supporter and the hard worker. This transferred to my time on the indoor and outdoor track team. In fact,  during my career I received multiple school and sectional sportsmanship awards. Through my time in cross-country and track, my peers were able to learn more about my disability and they became even more supportive of me as they knew I was overcoming something I was born with. I can’t tell you how important these experiences were to me as I made my way through high school.

So if you are thinking about giving up, or not even giving it a try, I truly believe you are making a mistake. Yes, those around may doubt you, but you need to show others they are wrong. Honestly there will be many difficult moments, but I strongly urge you to never give in as you will miss out on being part of something special. You will be amazed by how many people will reach out to you and believe in you more. Like any obstacle, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. So never give up and help increase the incredibly low statistics of individuals with disabilities being in varsity sports. I know it will be something you will be so proud of!

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