The big 2020 reflection post

Okay 2020 has been chaotic for everyone and a very weird year so this post will be a reflection of that.

2020 started as a relatively normal year. For me, on the one hand, I was loving life, having found climbing again and really progressing well. On the other hand, starting to become unhappy in my job. I have recently accepted that I probably have autism and ADHD (but can’t afford a diagnosis) so the environment and tasks weren’t right for me. Combining that with my physical symptoms and some toxic team members, including my line manager, I was getting increasingly unhappy.

I can’t count how many mental breakdowns working for said government department caused me, and they just got more intense the longer I was in the job. The nights I was terrified of failing probation, of being fired and then never being employable again. The false nice conversations and clear ableism. Me being terrified and unable to fight for the support I needed. The gaslighting and other things that I don’t really feel comfortable talking about right now.

Working that job has definitely taken a huge toll on my confidence. The presenteeism pressure, combined with self-medicating my feelings through climbing on injury after injury whilst having an ME flare and then probably getting COVID caused the worst ME flares of my life. Fortunately, I’m doing a lot better now.

Lockdown happened. Other than with my health the two months I wasn’t working were blissful. I don’t normally like having nothing to do, but I really learnt that it is okay to rest and to do things we enjoy.

I’ve struggled with moving back in with an incredibly ableist family and having the walls and my health decide to both stop me climbing has been frustrating. Just as I’ve started to get well enough they’ve closed again and again.

I’m spending Christmas in tier 4 which is basically lockdown.

Not that 2020 has been all bad. Nor has it been the worst year of my life. I got to compete before COVID, I did a few virtual internships and have been to a whole host of law events. I’ve reached subscriber/follower goals on here and on youtube, despite not really doing youtube anymore and not having been as active of a blogger as I’d like since starting the LPC. I climbed a v5 (I can’t climb that anymore but I did it, which I really wanted climbing wise in 2020). I think I have also reached my book goal of 30 books over the course of the year. We definitely won’t be having time for that in 2021! I did well in my mocks and got 90% in my first real assessment.

It may have been a dark year at times but there definitely was some light.

Lets talk disability classification in para sports

The IFSC (international federation for sport climbing) has recently stated they are moving to IPC classifications from 2021.

This separates athletes into the following 10 eligible impairments:

  • Impaired Muscle Power – Athletes with Impaired Muscle Power have a Health Condition that either reduces or eliminates their ability to voluntarily contract their muscles in order to move or to generate force. Examples of eligible impairments are paraplegia, a spinal cord injury, post – polio syndrome and spina bifida
  • Impaired Passive Range of Movement – Athletes with Impaired Passive Range of Movement have a restriction or a lack of passive movement in one or more joints. This may result from contracture resulting from chronic joint immobilisation or trauma 
  • Limb Deficiency – Athletes with Limb Deficiency have total or partial absence of bones or joints as a consequence oftrauma (for example traumatic amputation), illness (for example amputation due to bone cancer) or congenital limb deficiency (for example dysmelia).
  • Leg Length Difference – Athletes with Leg Length Difference have a difference in the length of their legs as a result of a disturbance of limb growth, or as a result of trauma.
  • Short Stature – Examples of an Underlying Health Condition that may lead to Short Stature include achondroplasia, growth hormone dysfunction, and osteogenesis imperfecta. 
  • Hypertonia – Athletes with Hypertonia have an increase in muscle tension and a reduced ability of a muscle to stretch caused by damage to the central nervous system. This may be as a result of Cerebral Palsy, a Traumatic Brain Injury or a stroke.
  • Ataxia – Athletes with Ataxia have uncoordinated movements caused by damage to the central nervous system. This may be caused by the conditions/events listed in hypertonia or by MS.
  • Athetosis – Athletes with Athetosis have continual slow involuntary movements. The examples listed by IPC here are Cerebral Palsy, a traumatic brain injury and stroke.
  • Vision impairment – reduced or no vision caused by damage to the optic nerves or optical pathways or visual cortex of the brain.
  • Intellectual impairment – Athletes with an Intellectual Impairment have a restriction in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour in which affects conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills required for everyday life. This Impairment must be present before the age of 18. 

It then goes to list a number of categories of health conditions that are not underlying health conditions. These are as follows:

  1. Conditions that primarily cause pain (fibromyalgia, CRPS, Myofascial pain syndrome)
  2. Conditions that primarily cause fatigue (ME/CFS)
  3. Primarily cause hypermobility or hypotonia (EDS)
  4. Primarily psychological or psychosomatic in nature (Conversion disorders or PTSD)

So what are the problems with this?

a) Using the same basic criteria for a range of sports excludes people who can’t run due to pain/fatigue/joint instability can and has excluded people from wheelchair basketbal, tennis and other sports that rely on either being able to run or use a wheelchair.

b) It’s completely misunderstanding ME/CFS. Take me for example. I have reduced sensation in my legs, feet and left hand often. But unless I get scans and lumber punctures to see if it’s something brain/cci related and they come back with something I’d probably be excluded from para-sports purely because the IPC thinks my condition is primarily fatigue when fatigue is the tip of the iceberg. It’s unbearable pressure in the base of my skull, dizziness, difficulty with positional changes, reduced sensation, extreme muscle weakness and reduced power in my legs and I’ve always had poor proprioception and co-ordination. Although this isn’t an issue for me right now. I’m not well enough to compete in any sport and do my very intense masters course it would be nice to have the option and it hurts that yet another organisation is failing to properly understand ME/CFS.

c)Expressly excluding EDS (unless the athlete also has an eligible impairment + EDS) is wrong. Yes it fluctuates and athletes with EDS may need regular evaluations and some wouldn’t even fall within para categories if they were amended but EDS impairs ability to perform in a variety of ways. Our hyper-mobile joints means it takes more power to do what a non hyper-mobile person can, we often have issues with fatigue, brain fog and positional changes. We can have poor proprioception and get frequently injured.

d) It’s not considering everything else that can impair ability to perform that comes with a “Non-eligible” underlying health condition. The fatigue, brain fog, inability to concentrate, the pain, slow healing, dizzyness. These are all real issues and I know they can be hard to quanitify but nevertheless there should be an option for those who fall outside the 10 categories that doesn’t make the competition unfair for people within the 10 categories.

e) For an organisation that preaches accessibility and inclusivity in sports it just doesn’t feel right to have this list of non eligible impairments.

f) People who have worked for years to get to where they are, are now being exlcuded from competing. Their career ending prematurely due to some critieria.

So? What should change? I understand the need for strict measurable criteria to ensure the competition is fair for everyone. Especially in sports where it comes down to a tenth of a second or point. It’s definitely hard to find the balance. But I think there is a way to include everyone whose disability impacts their sport and wants to compete and is able to get to the required standard.

I think different sports should be able to have different criteria and still be able to make a bid to be a Paralympic sport if not already one. Honestly, all wheelchair sports should be accessible to anyone who can’t do the able bodied equivalent because they can’t run or stand for a long period of time. It may mean playing around with the categories to ensure it’s fair but the pay off is accessibility for all. Secondly, we need diverse teams making these decisions. We need people with a range of disabilities and from a range of ethnic, gender and socio-economic backgrounds in the room. This will mean any blindspots will be pointed out and considered, hopefully leading to less unfair exclusion. Assessors also need to have proper education about lesser known impairments that athletes may present with. To ensure a full, fair and non biased evalation.

As a climber. I really want all aspects of the sport to be accessible to all. Yes I may be climbing like a beginner right now because I’ve been so sick this year and I still love climbing regardless of my grade and limited ability. But I also enjoyed competing when I was younger and in the beginning part of this year. If our disability impacts our sport we should have the option for both. Regardless of the underlying health condition.