By Sonny Davis
Greetings, I go by Sonny Davis.
A few years ago, when I came to the great city of Edmonton, I made a personal commitment to a childhood dream of mine to become an olympian. Well, in my case, a paralympian. At age 5 doctors diagnosed me with a neural muscular disorder called Charcot Marie Tooth disease, which is a form of muscular dystrophy. There is degeneration of muscle and nerve present in my legs and my hands.
I live a “walk and roll” lifestyle. Some days I feel good to walk and others I’ll take to the chair, ergo: “Sonny and Chair.” Sorry, bad wheelchair joke. Having been in Edmonton for over a year and a half now I am happy to say that accessibility is good and I can truly get around.
I began wheelchair racing and training for a good 6-7 years total before making the commitment to myself that in the summer of 2008 I would be on Team Canada racing wheelchair at the paralympic games in Beijing. In order to get there I had to do as many track meets and road races as possible to develop speed, strength and a good base. I worked regularly with my coach to achieve the stamina and nutrition I needed as well as goal setting for fitness and PB’s (personal bests).
Edmonton’s fitness facilities, specifically the Kinsmen Sports Centre, have all been a true blessing and each and every bike path I now train on in my wheelchair becomes a scenic and magical journey.
In disabled sports, athletes are placed in categories according to their class. This is defined by the athlete’s disability or rather, ability. The ability to sit up straight in a wheelchair or the strength in the arms and hands was the difference between tooting along on your own or running with the pack.
In my case, there was ALWAYS a stipulation to whether or not I was this or I was that, due to the nature of my condition and the fact that although I use a wheelchair to get around I still am able to walk. Plus the very obvious wasting in my forearms and hands had several judges and classifiers tipping their monocles to see what was keeping my spine so straight off the track. I just told them, “Practice.”
So I continued to practice even though I still hadn’t been placed in a class yet. I needed a specific classification in order to reach Beijing. My co-athletes had passed that stage and knew what they wanted. Before I started booking flights I had to get a professional international classifier to clas
For some athletes it is very easy to tell in which class they will race. Most I have met have all been spinal cord injuries, amps, spina bifida or even blindness. These are obvious to a classifier and with a short interview and some muscle testing they are given a number and sent along: “Good luck!”
I have been very blessed to be an athlete living in Alberta. On top of the city allowing disabled citizens to fully use any city fitness facility, a perk not every athlete is privy to, being on the Alberta team has given me the opportunity to travel, race and meet so many athletes that were like me, in the regard that we could see eye to eye; sorry, more bad wheelchair jokes.
During my competitive years I never did meet any athletes with muscular dystrophy. As far as my coach and I knew I was the only one.
So I trained hard, competed in a number of track meets, road races, marathons and bike tours. In 2005 I travelled to Japan for my first marathon. This is where I would finally receive the classification card I so badly desired for Beijing. I did the race but barely finished. It was a long push with hundreds of other wheelchair athletes from around the world and just as I was about to take the last turn into the final 200 meters, I crashed HARD.
Sparing the gory details, I picked myself up and trudged past the finish line with a bent frame and damaged wheel. Still, I got ‘er done.
Living with MD I’m constantly falling over. My entire life has always been about the practice of persistence. Fall down 6 times, get up 7. When I moved to Edmonton the growth of my spirit would be challenged. I moved away from the comforts and conveniences of home. I would have to adapt my DIS-abilities to new and higher ABILITIES.
Every day is taking one step, or wheel, at a time.
Finally, in 2006, I would reach the qualifying events at the World Championships in Holland. I arrived one week before the race. I focused and trained every day. I had one goal and my intention was strong. This was the road to the Beijing Paralympics.
Just as I thought all my stars were aligned, I receive notice that the classifying judges voted against my class ruling and spontaneously changed my classification card. Shocked, the Team Canada head coaches would appeal the decision two times before I finally had to resign to the fact that despite my hard training and travel all the way to Holland, I would not be racing.
I quite literally watched from the sidelines.
Acceptance came quickly that my dreams and chances for making the team for Beijing were all of sudden dust in the wind.
There is so much more to say about the rise and fall of the human condition and the building of our dreams, just to let them go.
So I did not race in Beijing. However I am now training for a cross Canada tour in 2010 to raise money and awareness for a chosen charity: Muscular Dystrophy.
Above all I want to tell my story to people who find themselves trapped in a prison of names, labels or opinions. Whether it be from pressures from others outside of you or that which arises from within you out of misguided belief or simply the play of duality.
To say that I discovered freedom when I was at my lowest. That I no longer hear people tell me who I am or what "class" I'm in. That I am not defined by a number or a group of letters that describes my condition.
My condition is freedom.
I am frameless!