Inspire a Generation. That’s the theme for this year’s Paralympic Games, which begin next week in London. I am humbled by these individuals’ sheer determination to not only conquer life’s challenges but to dominate as athletes, too.
Achilles International is an organization dedicated to putting the “abled” back into athletes with physical impairments. I recently had the opportunity to ask Kathleen Bateman, director of the New York City chapter of Achilles International, a few questions. Her love of endurance sports led her to take over the paratriathlon team. She coaches weekly swimming, running, and cycling workouts, and facilitates athlete participation in triathlons and road races throughout the United States and abroad.
1. Achilles is such an amazing organization, what do you enjoy most about your job?
Every day I am surrounded by individuals who are passionate and fully engaged in their lives despite the challenges they face. Our athletes overcome obstacles to achieve what many people take for granted and other people could never dream of.
2. What is the biggest misconception that you think people have about people with disabilities?
Society often perceives people with disabilities as weak and vulnerable. Achilles athletes challenge this widely held misconception. When you watch an athlete without legs complete their first 5k or cheer on a woman who was told she would never walk again finish her first triathlon, you cannot help but be awed by their strength, determination and spirit.
3. Traveling can be such a joy but what are some of the challenges that people with disabilities may have when taking a trip?
Non-accessible hotels, bathrooms, restaurants, and tourist attractions are unfortunately common. But perhaps the greatest challenge is constantly interacting with personnel who, while they may be well intentioned, are unable to advise or understand accessibility issues. I have heard hotels claim that they are accessible as there is only one step at the entrance. One step is like standing before a brick wall for someone in a wheelchair. Once a flight attendant informed an athlete she could be accommodated on the flight but her wheelchair would arrive the following day, which is like saying your legs will be arriving tomorrow.
4. What is your favorite destination? Why? And, can you share one specific thing that you would recommend to someone else when visiting that spot?
In May, the Achilles paratriathlon team traveled to Austin, Texas to compete in the National Championships. I loved the city’s laid-back atmosphere, charm, and the hospitality of its people. Anyone visiting needs to check out a live show from Austin’s music scene and should not miss Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s Saloon. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like – you bet on a square of ground, and if the chicken “goes” on your patch, you win. Now that’s something you don’t see everyday!
Kathleen’s Travel Tips for a Person with Disabilities.
- Use online resource guides to research a location’s accessibility like Abilitytrip.com or Travelinwheels.com. Disabled World News gives information on accessible travel for persons with disabilities with reviews of tours, cruises, flights and wheelchair accessible accommodation.
- Always call ahead to ensure that a hotel has a ramp, that the bathrooms and restaurant are accessible, and that the staff will be expecting them and ready to accommodate any special needs.
- Allow plenty of time to get through customs and baggage claim.
- Be aware of the American with Disabilities Act, which protects travelling with equipment like wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs from incurring additional fees.
- A successful trip means being your own self-advocate.
Read more about Achilles International in my spotlight on Paralympic competitor Richard Whitehead.