American historians wax lyrical about the ‘Summer of 1968’. Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5th halfway through the Democratic Party Primary race to elect their Presidential candidate. Kennedy’s death left his party bruised, battered and weak. This allowed Richard Nixon to rise from the ashes and obtain the Presidency five months after Kennedy’s death. Historians have speculated that he would have trounced Nixon in the general election. If that had happened there would be no Watergate, probably no Reagan, which by extension means no Bush dynasty: the fate of the modern world would be changed forever. The three bullets that killed Robert Kennedy altered everything.
As a political historian I often like to ponder such hypothetical questions for fun. There is so many ‘what ifs?’ in life that often at times they can do your head in: the ‘what ifs?’ do not only apply to history, but to life as well. Chief among those for me is ‘What if I could walk?’ I’ve pondered this question before because I have never been totally content with my disability for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I feel as if due to my disability I could never live up to my full potential whatever this may be. That’s why I work tirelessly to demonstrate that I’m not only competent, but also that I excel.
Yesterday my favourite footballer retired, and I’m grieving. Warren Tredrea is and will always be a champion. He played Centre Half Forward for Port Adelaide, the most difficult position on the field of Australian Rules Football. Coupled with the resignation of long time coach Mark Williams this represents the end of an era for my football club. Tredrea is less than five years older than me. At 26 I could be in the prime of my football career. As I watched Tredrea’s press conference I remembered the time I went to see his first ever game with Dad at Football Park, the time he destroyed Carlton off his own boot, watching his signature pack marks constantly, and laughing with joy at his bow during the 2007 Preliminary Final. I had one thought through all of this: that could have been me. I wanted it to be me.
I love my football. For more than 20 years I have woken early on Grand Final Day to watch eight hours of continuous coverage (much to my mothers annoyance). I regard myself as a skilled strategic analyst of the Dean Laidley ilk, and I think I could be the next coach of the Power (and that I would do a much better job than Matthew Primus). When I was in high school my Health Education teacher (who coached the football team) said that despite not being able to play the game not only did I know much more than he did, but I knew more than anyone he had ever seen.
That could have been my life. I could have been the next Warren Tredrea if my brain got the required amount of oxygen. But it didn’t. This is my ultimate ‘what if?’. If I became that footballer would I become someone that my current self detests despite my superior athletic skill? Would I be the type of guy who has a girlfriend with more plastic in her than a kit bag of footballs? The type of guy who gets drunk regularly? The type of guy who has no self confidence beyond the sporting field? Would the imaginary me give the real me a second look?
I am unorthodox and unique due to my disability. My disability has been the driving force in creating a personality that sets me apart. Society instructs people to generate sympathy for me, suggests that I should be compensated at every opportunity, and indicates that I should be treated differently. Over the course of my life I’ve met people with disabilities who have taken these concepts to extremes: one who refuses any help of an equitable nature, and another who exploits the system at every opportunity. I realise that I am different, that I may need to use different means to achieve the same ends. I may need to adopt unconventional approaches that may not necessarily correlate with mainstream values but I think I am entitled to do that.
I don’t have any answers as to why my life has altered so drastically from the norm. Doctors it seems will never know the exact reason for my impairments. There is no definitive turning point that alters the course of my history, just as there will be no AFL flags, nor best and fairest awards. I know that I won’t be the next Warren Tredrea. I struggled with that for a long time. There weren’t three bullets that ruined this opportunity that I can definitively point to and there never will be. That to me is the hardest thing of all.