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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Seeking Positive Answers: The fun of shootin’ hoops for the first time in my 40s . . . and setting my sights higher

Playing basketball wasn’t something I ever thought would be a part of my life. I’ve always loved the sport. I spent many hours of my childhood watching my brothers play on school teams or in the driveway. There was a time when missing a Sixers game on television simply wasn’t an option in my mind. When I was a teenager, my dad even split season tickets with a bunch of guys for the two of us to go to about seven games a season for a few years.

Rob shooting on the hoop at 6.5 feet.
I imagine I played on a nerf basketball net longer than anyone. Shooting on my knees in our basement with a nerf ball or a basketball small enough that I could grip it in my right hand brought hours of enjoyment through the years.

But I could never really play the game. Not with a real ball, on a real court, and certainly not on a 10-foot regulation hoop.

On the rare occasion that I actually got to hold a real basketball in my hands, I’d suddenly feel like a weakling. I might be able to dribble it a few times or pass it, with much effort, to someone very close by. But to really handle it, let alone shoot it, felt impossible. It never made much sense to me. People seemed to handle a basketball so effortlessly. Sure, I’m not very big, including my hands, and my cerebral palsy complicates everything. But it seemed strange to have so little ability play with an actual basketball.

Yet, several years ago, when I noticed the Y that I workout at had a couple basketball nets that were much lower than the regulation 10-foot rims, I instantly wanted to try them out. Eventually, I went to the Y in my manual wheelchair to shoot baskets on a 6-foot hoop that was meant for kids.

I think I made one basket that day. I was terrible. Instead of shooting, I felt like I was heaving the ball just to get it near the rim.

And I loved every minute of it. Wednesdays became my day to shoot.

Simply moving around on a court, I felt like a kid having fun. It was almost like recapturing something CP had taken from me. Those who love the game know how easy it is to get lost in shooting hoops. I could miss 10 in a row, and all I wanted to do was make the next shot. The sound of the ball swishing through the cotton of the net is the sweetest music on any court.

Unfortunately, the fun only lasted about six months. I was also playing power wheelchair hockey at the time and developed bursitis in my left shoulder. Driving the wheelchair with right-handed controls with my more spastic left hand (leaving my right to use the stick) created the problem. The shoulder just wouldn’t heal, and I shut down everything in an effort to let it recover.

Fast-forward to a year ago December. After trying several other remedies for my bursitis with varying degrees of success, I began working with a wellness coach at the Y to try to finally get the soreness out of my shoulder. It didn’t hurt that we had connected on a personal level, and were soon calling each other “big sis’” and “little bro’,” but that’s another story. She took the time to really watch me do my rehab exercises, offered some adjustments, and showed me some new exercises that I could really do effectively.

Finally, my shoulder was improving. And I couldn’t wait to try hoops again. I got some added motivation after I mentioned my plan to shoot again to my sis’, who instantly challenged me to a shootout someday.

I started shooting last February. I went from hoping to hit one basket and slowly progressed to having a goal of making 30 shots per day. Shooting twice a week became three and, recently, four times a week.

As much as I loved shooting on the 6-foot high rim on my own, I really wanted to be able to play, even just shoot around, with others. My big sis’ followed through on shooting with me, and we play together whenever we get the chance. But I want to be able to shoot around with her and have it be fun for both of us. (She’d say it’s fun now, and I believe her, but I also know her incredible patience comes into play, as it does with much of what we do together.) I also want to play with my brothers, nephews, and nieces. And I don’t want to have to haul everyone to the Y to play on the net that just happens to be available. I slowly realized that I needed to set my sights higher.

To be precise, I needed to set my sights four feet higher. And that became a whole new challenge.


Seeking Positive Answers: The fun of shootin’ hoops for the first time in my 40s . . . and setting my sights higher PART II

After seven months of shooting baskets on a 6-foot high rim, I set my sights higher—four feet higher to the regular hoops.

I love the fact that I’m shooting baskets, really shooting baskets, for the first time in my life. So many things have gone into trying to shoot better. I’m learning what muscles are involved, and my sister is constantly teaching me how to train them better. I’m learning how to use my body more effectively to take a shot. I’ve learned to control the ball better than I ever have. And the motivation to workout is as high as ever.

I’ve been asked if my goal is to play wheelchair basketball in a league. That’s really never been part of why I started shooting baskets. Not that I wouldn’t love to be able to be on a team.

I really just wanted to be able to play. I want to be able to shoot around with my sister and brothers and have it be fun for them too. I want to be able to go to my brother’s house or a playground and shoot on a regular hoop. And shooting on a 10-foot hoop seemed like a great way to challenge myself.

So, last August, I started shooting at the regulation basket. I could barely touch the netting, but I figured it would only be a matter of time before I could make a basket. Then a week went by. And another week. Then a couple more. And I hadn’t sniffed a hoop.

Those 4 feet felt like about 40.

I went back to the 6-foot hoop. I hadn’t given up, but I knew I needed to get stronger. And as much as I love shooting, never making a hoop was discouraging—to put it politely.

I was still getting stronger, and along the way I would occasionally test myself by trying to put the ball as high off the backboard on the 6-foot hoop as I could. But I really didn’t know if shooting on the 10-foot rim was ever going to happen. I’d take a few minutes at the end of each session to shoot at the regulation hoop, and I really wasn’t progressing.

After about a month, one of the guys who works at the Y came over and said, “This is getting too easy for you.” Then he moved the net up 6 inches!

I didn’t even know the hoop was adjustable. The path to 10-feet seemed to have appeared out of nowhere!

With a reachable target, the help of the two guys working in the basketball court area adjusting the net, and some more coaching from my big sis’, I progressed pretty quickly to shooting at an 8-foot rim. That was definitely my sticking point. But I kept shooting at the 10-foot rim for a few minutes each day. I could soon hit the yellow padding under the backboard somewhat regularly. Eventually, I hit the rim.

Just after the holidays, the guys put the rim a peg higher by mistake, but I went with it. I could only put a couple shots in that day, but I was suddenly only a foot-and-a-half shy of my new goal—a made basket on the regulation net. I started shooting more at the 10-foot hoop. I started hitting the rim multiple times.

Three weeks and a day later, warming up on a day when I was meeting my sister to shoot, it happened! Finally! From the right side of the net on a Wednesday morning at the Y, I put a basketball through the regulation hoop.

I flung my arms into the air, yelled a joyous, “Yes!” and looked around, and . . . nobody cared.

It was one of the more anti-climactic moments of my life. Kind of funny, actually. I’m sure some of the people shooting that day thought I was a little wacky. But I didn’t care. My sis got there about three minutes later, and we high-fived. Then we played hoops until she had to go to work, which was the best part of the day, anyway.

I don’t write this post to brag. Obviously, there’s nothing to brag about. As with my first book, I’m Not Here to Inspire You, my biggest hope in writing about some of my efforts in athletics is to encourage young people with disabilities who slip through the cracks of adaptive sports programs.

If anyone had told me when I was in school that I’d be in my 40s spending most of my middays at the Y working out and shooting hoops, I probably would have been ready to fight them. This is not the life I had planned. But, I guess, I’ve learned to try to take the positives in life and go with it. No doubt, it’s still a work in progress. But, for now, I’m enjoying my opportunity to play some basketball and to improve my physical abilities.

Playing also reminds me of my goal to build a rec center for people with disabilities. I got lucky in my mid-40s to find a way to shoot baskets. I get the fun and exercise from a game millions of people enjoy playing. Yet, without my sister and the guys at the Y, it probably never happens for me. People with disabilities deserve the same chance.

The Saturday after I made my first basket, I went to see if the courts were full after my workout. They were filled with teenagers and adults, so I steered clear knowing I’d kind of be in the way and that I have time to shoot during the week. Before leaving, I watched little kids playing an organized game on the adjustable nets that I use. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have a bunch of people with disabilities who might not fit into a wheelchair league doing the same thing.

And I looked forward to making my next hoop on the regulation basket.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Seeking Positive Answers – “Be Funny”

Be funny.

It’s advice I’ve gotten more than once about my writing.

Offered mostly when I was younger, the advice generally came after someone read something I’d written that was in no way meant to be humorous. I imagine getting suggestions about how to write from people who don’t write is like people who don’t have kids telling parents how to raise children.

Much of my writing attempts to look at some of the realities of living with a disability, and the response to “be funny” often felt like a blow-off. Quite frankly, it probably was a put-off when I was younger, as some readers felt I came off too harsh or abrupt, which wavered between the truth and opinion.

In pursuit of what it really means to be positive, I’ve been thinking about the idea of writing humor. I actually tried to write something that was specifically intended as humor once. If you look at a blank piece of paper, you’ll see my work. I had watched Bill Cosby’s Himself and read his book Fatherhood. While the man’s name is rightly met with disgust nowadays, Cosby was pretty damn funny at the time. To a very young kid who loved to write and could occasionally spit out a funny quip, writing comedy seemed like a great idea. Just write something funny and everybody will love it. I quickly learned that actually creating something humorous is incredibly difficult. I’ve tried plenty of things that were so bad they were instantly trashed, yet, I couldn’t put a single word on paper when I sat in front of a typewriter to be funny.

In later years, it was suggested that I just write about some of my experiences in a humorous way. Ironically, or perhaps not, none of the people who offered this advice ever enjoyed seeing themselves in some of my attempts to follow their suggestion. I can’t tell you how enjoyable it is when people say things like, “Well, you shouldn’t really write it that way. Just be funny.”

The best I could figure was that I was supposed to use my experiences, which were extremely limited as an over-protected and overly-timid disabled person, to be funny. I just wasn’t supposed to mention any actual people in my life or suggest that having a disability was in any way a negative thing.

My mom used to say that our lives during the period of time that we took care of my father as he suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease should be made into a comedy. If you’re offended by the thought, you’re really going to want to stop reading. Our experience was nothing like anything I’ve ever seen on TV.

Dad’s propensity to drop the F-bomb or flip the bird led to some funny moments, and, as mom would say, if we weren’t laughing, we’d have been crying. I spent a brief time in my 20s being responsible for reminding dad to not only use the bathroom during the day, but, e’hm, to “keep going.” We were trying to hold off on Depends. If you have the right sense of humor—or possibly the wrong sense of humor—I imagine the mental picture of me on my knees in the upstairs of our old house trying to get a 6-foot man to take a leak can be funny. The conversation went something like, Dad, go to the bathroom . . . F--- you . . . Fine, go to the bathroom. . . . F--- you. Eventually, he’d stand in front of the toilet and squirt for two seconds and want to stop. Keep going, dad . . . two seconds of squirt . . . Keep going, dad . . . two seconds of squirt . . . Dad! . . . Aw, f--- you. . . . two seconds of squirt.

My disability has led to some of its own humorous moments. It’s been years, but I still remember looking up from adjusting the weight on a machine at the Y to find a woman leaning down in my face, screaming, “It’s so great you’re here! I’m a cancer survivor myself, and we just have to get in here and do it!” Slightly stunned, I recall nodding politely, thinking, “Why the hell is this woman screaming at me?” and that I knew of a book I thought she should read. I’m not here to inspire you . . . or to be screamed at.

Of course, my disability doesn’t need help to create amusement. Waking up in the middle of the night having to, well, pee like a racehorse is never fun. But try it with muscles that you don’t have full control over even in good moments. Trust me, no matter how many times you tell yourself to relax so you can move faster, it doesn’t help. And I have a bathroom just a few feet from my bed. Although, I have to admit, the feeling of relief that comes with making it to the toilet on time isn’t bad. It certainly beats the alternative. Still, I’m in my 40s, and I generally cut off liquids for the night before most toddlers get shut down by their parents.

Laughing at ourselves is never a bad thing. “Be funny” isn’t necessarily bad advice for a writer—assuming they are capable of writing humor! Ironically, people have used the word “funny” more than any other to describe my books.

I still wonder, perhaps unfairly at times, if the advice is given to me because readers are uncomfortable with people with disabilities describing some of the difficulties of their lives. I can’t imagine anyone reading a piece about the realities of living as a black person, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or any other group, and suggesting that it should all be turned into a good laugh.

Offering a funny look at life, including a life with a disability, can be a positive thing. I doubt it will ever be my strong suit, but I admire those who do it well.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Shootin’ Hoops

I posted this video of me shooting hoops at the Y on social media, and I thought I’d add it to the blog for a little fun. Look at that form, baby! Haha!! Love shootin’ hoops at the Y. (Thanks to the Rocky Run for originally posting this on their Facebook page.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Seeking Positive Answers: What does it truly mean to be positive?

My friend had told me that it was important to have an information bracelet or tag somewhere on my person when I was out cycling, especially when I was by myself. Considering that I live with cerebral palsy, getting a tag made sense, and I decided I needed to start wearing one. It didn’t hurt that my friend had some available as part of her promotional efforts as a running coach.

Pair of sneakers with ID tag on left shoe. Caption reads: A photographer I'm not, but here's my Form and Focus Fitness tag. (Kinda proud of my worn out sneakers. Not bad for a wheelchair user!)
One of the pieces of information that goes on these tags is the individual’s blood type. I didn’t know mine, so I took a blood test. It seemed like something I should know. As soon as I got the results, I could predict how my friend would respond when she found out that I was B positive.

It’s a sign! she said.

I laughed and told the friend I’ve come to call my “big sis” that I knew she’d say that. She’s allowed. Not just because she’s the sister I’ve always needed, according to my mom, but because she’s been a genuinely positive person in the short time that I’ve known her.

I was thrilled when she asked to read my two books several months earlier, but I was a little nervous about her reading the first one. I reread I’m Not Here to Inspire You before I gave it to her, and knew she would not be a fan of the tone of at least the first couple essays.

The often misunderstood title of the book gives some readers an unfavorable impression from the beginning. While several people with disabilities have offered positive feedback on it, other readers are quick to assume the book is negative because they don’t take the time to understand the title. Of course, I’m not suggesting that legitimate criticism of the book isn’t possible. My big sister had a few critiques, as I recall.

But it’s the claim some have made that the book is negative that gnaws at me. Though my approach may be different these days, I believe the book offers plenty of positive messages that I hope stirs young people with disabilities to stop and think about some of what they are going through, and perhaps take better control of their lives than I did.

Before my exchange with my big sis, I had decided to take a break from writing. My novel, The Birth of Super Crip, hadn’t sold. And paid blogging opportunities for other sites had dried up. My brief relapse into sports blogging hadn’t generated much interest, and I was tired of beating the same drum—and hearing the same drum beat—in the disability blogosphere.

Since my break began, I took my first class in twenty years, which was also my first online class ever. I like to say I “audited” the class—listening to the lectures, but not doing the assignments—as a way of dipping my toe back into the waters of going to school. I eventually followed-up with a second course that I dove into much more. I also started feeling better physically—mostly due to an improving shoulder that has bothered me for years—and got back to lifting weights. I gotta give thanks to my wellness coach big sis on that one. She’s taught me some great shoulder stretches, and has greatly improved my workout program in general.

I even got back to shooting hoops on about a 6-foot high net at the Y. I’m absolutely terrible at shooting, and love every minute of it. I can miss 10 straight shots, and hearing the swish of the ball going through the net on the 11th shot makes me want to keep shooting.

For the most part, I’ve changed my occasional walk from a ride in my power chair to a ride on my recumbent cycle. And I love my just-about-monthly outings with my sis.

I also started thinking about what it truly means to be positive.

I’ve tried not to post anything except upbeat messages on social media (though I recently “shared” an article that may be considered politically-charged and might not be viewed in a positive light by some).

I’ve resisted the urge to tweet about negative experiences with ignorant people I encountered at a restaurant and the pool this year. I did not write about the nightmarish process of buying my new modified van.

I’ve begun looking—or, at least, peeking around—for a job again. Though reticent about the constant rebuffs that I’ve experienced in the past from employers more concerned about my disability than my qualifications, I’d like some of the freedom a paycheck could bring.

Is that being positive?

There’s a part of me that wonders if, as a writer and a disabled person, I shirked my duties in not writing about some of my less than positive experiences. It’s important to stand up for yourself, and I often do that through my writing. Pointing out what’s wrong in the world is almost a natural part of those efforts.

Is that being negative?

I’ve watched The Ellen Show for years, recently making it a daily habit again. DeGeneres has to be the queen of positivity. She’s funny, and seems like a genuinely good person. Her show is, as the theme song says, “a little fun” in my day.

DeGeneres ends every show saying, “Be kind to one another.” It seems like wonderfully positive advice.

Is that all it would take to be more positive? It would be a great step, but I imagine most view the daily farewell as a throw-away line.

So, I’m really wondering. What does it truly mean to be positive?

I’d like to say this is the beginning of a great journey to find out what being positive really means. If only I had that sage voice of a seasoned, roving reporter on some Sunday morning show. Regardless, I hope to find the next step of that journey, and to share it with readers sooner rather than later.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Wrapping up the Blog for 2016: Posts I hope you read

It’s the time of year when radio stations will be cranking out the best songs of the year. At least that’s what they used to do when I was still listening to Top 40 stations. I was thinking I’d take a cue from them, and post a few links to what I think were my best posts of the year. But the more I thought about it, I decided to add a list of what I think are my best posts from the blog since I published the first book. It’s a shorter list than I anticipated! But that might be a good thing. Consider it a big #ICYMI (“in case you missed it,” for the non-social media enthusiasts) . . . and a really easy post to finish off the year. I’m thinking of it as stuff I hope people have read if they have read my work at all. Of course, the book and the novel come first, followed by these posts:

From 2016

Remembering a Great Day with Dad: If I keep blogging, I’m thinking of doing more of this type of personal writing in the future. This was actually a large excerpt from an older piece, but it was hardly read at all upon its original posting, and it received some of the most reaction on Facebook of anything I posted from the blog this year.

Rob’s Rants: Donald Trump and “The Hand Thing:” I’m certainly not looking to revisit anything from the election from hell, but this post got plenty of Twitter love.

Rob’s Rants on Disability: The Cure Question; Daydreamin’ of an Online Publication; A Few Good Blogs; Competition: I chose this post mostly for the first item, though I think there’s some decent stuff in the rest of it. I’d been wanting to address some of the noise I’ve heard about people with disabilities claiming not to want a cure even if one existed, and, after struggling to write a longer piece, I hope the shorter format worked.  

From the entire blog
Here’s a few posts that are a little older, posted after I’m Not Here to Inspire You. I recently reread the book before giving a copy to a friend. Though at times my delivery might be a bit softer now, I still hope there are some positive messages in the book. In my opinion, “From the Heart, About the Heart” and, at least the story about the guy selling Christmas cards in the essay, “A Christmas Memory,” are the best parts of the book. (I wish I knew more about him!) Perhaps the below posts would have worked well in the book.

We Said Hello, Goodbye: Thoughts on interaction among people with disabilities: I’d keep it shorter these days, but the opening story, I think, is a good one.

A Moment of Not Dealing with Disability: One of my more personal posts.

Thinking Big: Not a particularly great article, but in the post I detail my lifetime goal of creating a rec center geared toward people with disabilities. The concept is far from perfect, but I think of it often, especially this time of year when resolutions abound.
Just Play: A little more on why I think, despite the importance of inclusion, people with disabilities need opportunities to simply play together. (Written as a guest post for disABLE, the article also ran on Huffington Post.)

Finally, readers may have noticed that I haven’t blogged much in December. I’m not sure what I’ll do in 2017. I’m thinking of doing the occasional post, and, as I mentioned, writing more about personal experiences. If I can manage to get some creative juices flowing, I may post some fiction as well. I’m not sure how I will do future posts on sports, but I haven’t completely abandoned them. It’s still possible to subscribe to receive automated e-mails, which will be delivered whenever there is a new post on the blog. I’d recommend subscribing to the entire blog as opposed to specific categories if you’re interested in the types of posts I just mentioned. Please remember to confirm your subscription via the e-mail you will be sent from the service upon registering. (Check your “Junk Mail.”) Following me on Facebook and Twitter works, too.

Happy new year! At the risk of sounding trite, I think my resolution will be to try to keep good people close and focus on the positive.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rob’s Rants on Sports: Fans not spreading any holiday joy

The holiday spirit certainly hasn’t descended on Philadelphia sports fans. Is it just me? People seem overly PO’d about everything lately. Here’s my latest Rob’s Rants on sports:

    Rob's Rants on Sports logo featuring various stadiums and jerseys from the area and Rob
  • Nelson Agholor appeared to be on the verge of being waived by the Eagles after confessing, for lack of a better term, that he was struggling with the game mentally. He admitted things like fan criticism were getting to him, and that he needed to do a better job. Are we really ripping a guy for that? I get it. It’s not what anyone wants to hear from an NFL wide receiver. He’s been terrible. And he cost the Eagles a touchdown two weeks ago because he didn’t get lined up properly, while his head coach was screaming at him to get on the line. If you want to rip him, rip him for that. The fact that he was a first round draft pick isn’t something I add to the equation, though many people do. If Chip Kelly was dumb enough to pick him as a first rounder, that’s on Kelly and the organization. But I don’t understand the venom directed at Agholor for his comments. At least he admitted he’s not getting the job done.

  • I’ve actually heard people screaming for Doug Pederson to be fired after the loss to the Packers. Seriously? First of all, Jeff Lurie doesn’t have the stones to fire Pederson one year removed from giving Kelly the boot. So, it’s not going to happen. I’m certainly not defending Pederson. I said he was reaching Rich Kotite levels before the last two weeks. Challenging a two-yard reception by the Packers doesn’t exactly move me off that position. And maybe calling a timeout instead of screaming at Agholor when he’s lined up off the line instead of wasting a play that could really work would have been a good idea. But Pederson’s not getting fired. Lurie’s goal in life as an NFL owner is to be viewed as the sage, brooding, well-respected brains building a winner from behind the scenes (while getting all the accolades, of course). I know . . . never going to happen. But firing coaches in back-to-back years just doesn’t fit the self-appointed profile of this owner. He’s not firing Pederson this season.

  • Expect the calls for Pederson’s head to get louder, anyway. For a while, I was incredibly relieved that the trade of Sam Bradford caused me to skip my game-by-game predictions post. I thought the season was going to get at least as ugly as the recent 2-6 stretch suggests. I admit, I was way off. But looking ahead, I honestly think it is going to get ugly. If they don’t beat the Bengals, and the Cowboys care about the final game, I’m not sure the Birds win another game this season. Of course, my “predictions” . . . e’hm . . . have sucked all season. So, the Birds will probably win out.

  • I don’t think fans were too upset that the Sixers had to postpone their game on Wednesday night because the court was slick, but the media seemed pretty ticked—at least, Michael Barkann did. He was going after the Sixers on Philly Sports Talk the next day. I’ve already heard that the Sixers are offering fans complimentary tickets to any other game. I hope they figure out some way to reimburse people who payed for parking. And, again, from what I heard on television, it was pretty dumb that someone apparently forgot to turn down the thermostat so the ice under the court wouldn’t melt. But . . . eh. I’m sure fans who went down were not pleased, and they should have been told the game was cancelled sooner. This isn’t much of a rant, but I don’t put too much on the Sixers for this one.

  • I’ll finish on an “up” note that I don’t think anyone is grumbling about. It was a good news / bad news situation for Phillies fans when Matt Stairs became the hitting coach. I think it could be a good move for the team on the field, but I was going to miss him as an analyst in the TV broadcast booth for games. But the Phils are reportedly bringing in John Kruk to replace Stairs for a good portion of the games. “Krukker” was great in the same role on ESPN.
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