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Beyond Disability 1: Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton disabled? You decide ...
Living Beyond the Illusion of "Disability"

Photo: Mary Lou Retton, winning one of her Olympic Gold Medals.
We're "disabled" ourselves. We've been through this.

For some of us who have to cope with being unable to accomplish everyday tasks the way we used to — or the way "most people" do — life may sometimes seem an unpleasant, depressing, tedious, tragic existence.

Maybe some days things seem almost "impossible."

But over the years, we have learned that much of what most people call "disability" is really only an illusion.

In a sense, every one of us is a captive — a prisoner within the limitations of our own abilities or disabilities, whether or not we choose to think of ourselves — or others might think of us — as "disabled" ...

Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton:
"Perfect 10" ... Disabled or Not? You Decide!

Consider Olympic Gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who at age 16 became the first American woman in history to win an Olympic Gold Medal in Gymnastics.

Mary Lou was to win a total of FIVE Olympic Medals at Los Angeles that Summer, the most medals won by any athlete competing at the '84 Summer Olympics!

(Want to watch Mary Lou's "Perfect 10" Gold Medal performance? See the box below.)

Now if you were in perfect physical condition
* like Mary Lou, and if you had just won five Olympic Medals like Mary Lou, you probably would not think of yourself as "disabled" ...

However, if you were only 4'9" tall like Mary Lou, it is most likely that you would still be unable to get things off the top shelf in your own kitchen without help.

"And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?"
(Luke 12:25 NKJV)

So what do you do if your "shortness" impairs your ability to live a "normal" life?

Mary Lou Retton holds up a bouquet after winning her fifth Olympic Gold Medal.Well, if you give it some thought, maybe there is an alternative way to accomplish the task at hand.

Perhaps you can find a taller person who could help you reach the item you want. Or maybe you could just get up on a chair or stepladder and reach it yourself.

Is a Stepladder "Assistive Technology"?

Or maybe you could get one of those extended reach gripper thingies that usually sell for $8 or $10 in most hardware stores.

And all of a sudden, with the help of some sort of appropriate assistive technology, the "disability" of being "vertically-challenged" disappears, and it just isn't that much of a challenge anymore.

aling with most other disabilities is usually just about as direct as that in the real world.

Perhaps part of your "disability" could have been an illusion all along, and you just didn't realize it.

In a practical sense, many of our "disabilities" do tend to effectively diminish or disappear as soon as we manage to find alternative methods of accomplishing the same tasks, or achieving the same goals, that others can, OR that we may have formerly regarded as difficult or impossible for us ... and we realize we are not quite as "disabled" as we had thought.

Is "Shortness" a "Disability" ... Or Not?

Now then, with respect to the issue of Mary Lou's "shortness":

If a person is only 4'9" tall, can their "shortness" really be a "disability" ... or could it perhaps actually be an "advantage" if that person should happen to be a gymnast (or a jockey)?

After all, shorter people do have a lower center of gravity than taller people, which would probably make them better suited for gymnastics than basketball.

In the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, gymnast Shawn Johnson, also exactly 4'9" tall, won four Olympic Medals, including a Gold Medal for her beam balance performance, one of the same events that Mary Lou Retton had won in Los Angeles 24 years earlier.

A True Story about Mary Lou's "Real" Disability ...

* Footnote regarding Mary Lou Retton's "perfect physical condition": Actually, Mary Lou was born with hip dysplasia, usually a congenital, or hereditary, disorder (sometimes also referred to as a "birth defect"). Mary Lou's father had also suffered from the same condition.

Mary Lou had undergone knee surgery just 6 weeks before the events she had entered in the 1984 Olympics, and her doctor didn't want her to compete.

But Mary Lou did compete, pushing beyond the illusion of her "disability" to win five Olympic medals, becoming the first American woman to win Olympic Gold in Gymnastics, and an inspiration for millions.

In 2005, Mary Lou's hip replacement surgery finally removed the pain she had known for years.


So was Mary Lou actually "disabled" when she won all those Olympic Medals in 1984 or not?

Consider these points: IF someone who just manages to qualify to enter an Olympics event is already considered to be "among the best in the world" at his or her particular sport ... And IF those who win Gold Medals have been judged to be the "Best of the Best" ... then what?

So who really is disabled? Guess it depends on how one might define "disabled." Probably most of us are "disabled" in one way or another. Was Mary Lou just living beyond her disability?

We don't know.

You decide ... if you dare. The folks who produce Wikipedia didn't seem to think that Mary Lou's "disability" was any significant disabling factor in her life that couldn't be overcome.

And we have never thought so either.

Special: Watch Mary Lou's "Perfect 10" 1984 Gold Medal Performance!

Got five minutes? Watch this video of Mary Lou Retton, including her classic performance at the 1984 Olympics as she does the "Perfect 10" vault that won the Gold, waits for her score, then performs a second perfect vault for a screaming crowd, proving to the world that her Gold Medal win was "no accident."

You can watch Mary Lou's historic Gold Medal Moment on YouTube at:
(The video will open in a "new" window. "Flash Player" is required.)

If you don't have the latest version of Flash Player installed in your web browser, you can download it for FREE at

Enjoy the show! (All external links open in "new" windows, so you won't get lost.)

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