Affirmation through disability: One athlete's personal journey to the London Paralympic Games

  • Kavanagh E
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Abstract

Aims: This article explores the personal narrative of a British Paralympic wheelchair tennis player who experienced a spinal cord injury (SCI) following a motorcycle accident in 2001 that left her paralysed from the waist down. The study responds to the call by Swain and French,1; among others, for alternative accounts of disability that demonstrate how life following impairment need not be empty and meaningless, but can actually reflect a positive, if different, social identity.Methods: This study draws upon life history data to investigate the journey of one athlete who has managed to achieve international sporting success following a life-changing accident. A pseudonym has not been used for this study as the athlete wanted to be named in the research account and for her story to be shared.Results: A chronological approach was adopted to map the pre- and post-accident recovery process. The account examines life before the trauma, the impact of the accident, the process of rehabilitation and the journey to athletic accomplishment.Conclusions: Negative views of disability can be challenged if disability is viewed in the context of positive life narratives. The story of one Paralympian demonstrates how an ‘ordinary’ person has made the most of an extraordinary situation and become a world-class athlete. This paper demonstrates that in contrast to typical discourse in disability studies, becoming disabled or living with a disability need not be a tragedy but may on the contrary enhance life and lead to positive affirmation.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Paralympics
  • affirmation
  • disability
  • narrative
  • role model

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Authors

  • Emma Kavanagh

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