All posts by Sam de Leve

Why won’t they let me swim? A bendy’s guide to the Paralympic eligibility problem

I have a few days to decide whether I want to attend a nearby Paralympic swim meet and attempt to be classified, the process by which disabled athletes are sorted into “classes” by impairment type or level so that disabled athletes compete fairly against peers of similar ability. After my first classification panel ruled me ineligible in 2012, I only have one more shot: if I am considered not eligible again, I am locked out of the sport forever, left in a limbo where I am too disabled to compete against able swimmers and prohibited from competing against my peers. For an athlete who thrives on competition, it is a terrifying gamble.

At issue is the nature of my disability. My primary disability is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which causes hypermobility and joint instability, as well as significant pain. I’ve experienced many joint dislocations, some of which have left me with permanent mobility impairment. I use a wheelchair, cannot bear weight into my legs reliably, and can’t get enough independent leg movement to perform flutter or breaststroke kicks. Initiated from the core and fading out as it reaches my legs, my butterfly kick is present but weak; I call it a “caterpillar kick.” I have a disability, and that disability presents a functional limitation on the way I swim.

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