Row Row Row Your Boat Out of Your Semi Existential Funk (Guest post)

by Samantha Walsh

I would like to thank Fit is a Feminist Issue and specifically Samantha (who shares my name) for the opportunity to write a guest blog post.  Over the past two years I have been looking for, and thus experimenting with, new sports and new challenges. The impetus for finding new fitness activities was a neck injury that changed the way I have to participate in sport and activity.


A little bit about me

To begin a little info about myself: I am 33, I am doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. I have held positions in both non-for-profit as well as post secondary institutions. I identify as a feminist and have an interest in social justice work.  I also have a condition called cerebral palsy which effects my coordination and ability to walk. I use a wheelchair to get around.   Much of my research and written work focuses on the social position of disability as it relates to class position and intersections of identity.  This blog post will venture in a new direct as a personal reflection on shifting your paradigm and identity.  I hurt my neck two years ago, and had to give up many of the activities I really liked, for a time.  I have been cleared to go back to most of them but, still really struggle to get back to the level of fitness I once had. It was the pursuit of new activities that brought me to rowing; and rowing which shifted the way I think about my own situation.

Row Row Row your Boat But, Wait There’s More

I took a “Learn to Row” from the Argonauts Rowing club in Toronto last year (2015). A “learn to row “is a beginner program where you literally learn to row; I was introduced to some of the rowing lexicon. I was taught how to row with the most efficient form.   During this time I had the opportunity to row a single.  I was also taught about the different adaptations that can be made to a boat to support a disabled rower. For example: A fixed seat so the rower is using their torso and arms, if they do not have coordination of their legs.  In competitive adapted rowing it is my understanding that rowers are classified based on their ability and then their times are compared.

It was also at this time, I learned the beloved childhood song “Row row row your boat”, is delightfully inaccurate, as it should likely include the phrase “Legs, back, arms” or “Oh my hamstrings”. Rowing was a full body workout and unexpectedly profoundly challenging.  I had befriended some varsity rowers during my undergraduate studies and had always thought the sport was neat.  I had wanted to try but, really struggled to find a rowing club that would accommodate the fact I have cerebral palsy and cannot walk. I had shelved the interest until a neck injury, mentioned above, made it difficult for me to participate in my usual fitness activities.  I was looking for something: that was a full body workout; that was social; not a team sport; could be done recreationally and able to be adapted.

Finding a New Sport Not So Easy When You Have a Disability

I started googling…An ongoing challenge I find as a disabled person whom is interested in their own fitness and recreation but, not interested in competition or team sports, is that I really struggle to find opportunities that provide: a challenging and comprehensive workout with a social component.  I find it is difficult for me to simply enroll in a sport ’n social league or other recreational things because, they often assume the participant will be able-bodied. The able body is almost compulsory for joining any sort of recreational sport.  For example: I have able bodied friends who are learning how to curl.  This seems like a great winter sport. It’s a fun game with the tradition of a beer after.  I know there is Wheelchair Curling. I have seen it on TV. However, I cannot find a league near me which supports wheelchair curling, so I do not curl.

I find often when I do find mainstream activities that welcome me and are reflexive to adaptation it is through a friend, a fitness instructor or coach who is excited to have different bodies in their class. I still find that the most common refrain for finding adapted sport is to rely on a team based program such as wheelchair basketball or a rehabilitation initiative. Moreover, adaptive sports equipment is often double or triple what an “able bodied” athlete would pay. For example: Running shoes versus the cost of a Racing Wheelchair. I long to be able to join beer leagues, workplace softball teams and drop in yoga classes. I am at a point in my life where my leisure time is limited. I am not interested in the lonely pursuits of excellene or segregated sports (these of course have their place). This is why, I was impressed to see the Argonauts advertised an adapted learn to row on their website. I was able to join for a fee and with very little self disclosure of my disability.  While rowing is a sport which typically favors those of higher socio-economic status it was a pleasant surprise to find out that the club had an open-door policy in regards to ability. However, I do recognize that it is my own privilege of being employed and having a disposable income that made my adventure in rowing possible.

You Are Only New Once…Or In The case of Rowing You Are New For Almost Two Years….

As mentioned above, I took a “learn to row” in 2015 and then returned for a second year of rowing in an adaptive program in 2016. I was really focused on rowing as a way to get a full body work out. I chose to row a single with a sliding seat that was comparable to an able bodied rower.  The single had pontoons on it as almost a training wheel system while, I learned to balance.  At the end of the 2015 season, I met another rower, Bill  (who was an single leg amputee) at an end of season party.  He offered to row a double with me.  In 2016, I practiced rowing both a double and a single.  While I had really enjoyed rowing a single; I liked the coaching I was receiving and really appreciated the solitude that rowing a single occasionally brought (other times it was a lot of trying not to row into things).  Rowing a double was a bit of a game changer for me.

 The Little Voice in the Back of your head, Or  If You Row the Person Speaking To the Back of Your Head

I had been very happy rowing a single.  The coaching style of the rowing club was one of positive feedback and constant things to build on. I felt like there was an assumed mutual respect. I was not in a subordinate position but, rather someone happy to learn from another person whom was happy to teach. This coaching style was in part why I looked forward to rowing, it was a happy add on to the beautiful scenery and comprehensive workout. Rowing a single though had not yielded me very many social opportunities. I did not know very many of the other rowers and often only spoke with my only my coach on the dock.  Additionally, early on I had told the club I was not interested in racing or competitive rowing. That I would be rowing just to get back into shape. Pleasantly, everyone seemed to respect this. To be fair though a novice rower does not usually compete.

The first night I rowed a double with Bill he made a point to introduce me to everyone he knew on the dock. Each person we encountered he would have a little story for. He would always introduce me with a little quip about losing a bet and having to row with him; or some interesting fact about me. I met a lot of different people very quickly.  In the boat Bill sat behind me doing a lot of the balancing and steering. He gave me feedback on my rowing.  He told me I was fast. He said I was always improving. Bill would go out in any kind of weather. Every time, I said the weather was bad, he would say something about the perfect day never comes. Often, I went with him on whatever adventure course he was set for.  He introduced me to more people. He talked to the coordinator and coaches about my progress.  He told me I should race. An interesting nuance or at least how I understood it.  The idea of racing was not to seize elite status but, to race for myself. Race as a challenge; a way to get more involved in the club; a way to meet more people. Everyone around me was receptive to this idea. I started to work on race starts, and being able to row racing distances.

Race Day

The regatta Bill and I enter was a recreational one hosted by our club. The water was awful that day.  It was windy and choppy.  At one point a coach remarked we would likely not be in the water but, it was a regatta.  But, remember, if you wait for the perfect day you will never go rowing. We rowed. It was too choppy to do a race start. The only goal was to make it to the end and not flip the boat. Just keep rowing!  We made it to the finish line. There was apparently an issue, our time was lost. I am pretty sure we lost. I was not really focusing on other boats just my boat and moving to the finish line.  When we got off the water there was a reception with social to follow.  I rowed a race, I met some new people and I left feeling better than I had in a long time.

Changing the Tide: Rowing as a metaphor for life

As someone who studies the workings of societies and social dynamics it is hard for me to believe that an individual’s success is not the collective sum of their social position and the resources they have access too.  I understand concepts of “positive thinking” or that individuals have total control over their destiny to be deeply flawed mired with classism and an erasure of systemic oppression. While I maintain these assertions to be true; acknowledging that even the opportunity to both try, and then continue rowing is made possible through a complex network of my own privilege and resources. I am forever, grateful that the opportunity to row and to race with Bill has reminded me: not to limit myself through my own expectations. Not to wait for the perfect day to try something and despite the choppy water and the ups and downs to keep rowing best you can; even if you are scared, even if you have to stop for a time. Rowing reminded me of my own resilience and ability to change courses even when the water is rough.  I am forever grateful to the great coaching staff and my doubles partner.

Getting ready at the dock! #adaptiverowing #adaptivesport #row #rowing #summer #summer2016

A post shared by Samantha Walsh (@walshsam) on



Undeniable? Undeniable. (Guest Post)


Georgia and Nancy, in the car. Georgia, leaning against her mom, is wearing a turquoise toque with ear flaps and chin strings. Nancy is wearing a black wool hat and orange stripey scarf.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t want to like the new ad for SickKids. I’m surprised that I do, given that, for the most part, I don’t support the use of language in illness that refers to “fighting battles” or “losing a valiant fight against cancer”. (See Cate’s post about this worry here.) This kind of language permeates health and illness care (“attacking germs!”or “wiping out cancer cells!”). Many adult patients find this language challenging, and tiring, as it suggests retaliation and active engagement in fighting is the only feasible option. And for those whose illness may worsen, the feeling that they have failed in some way is almost inevitable.

Some people simply object to words that refer to violence to describe their day-to-day existence and prefer a more compassionate approach with less confrontational language. Others may find the idea of fighting a battle with illness to be empowering, energizing, or inspirational. But there’s no consensus out there that there is one way to talk about disease or illness, and that’s something that I think this ad highlighted for me, in part.

This is not the way many want to think about illness – battles, stuff blowing apart, superhero moves, and kick drops – but maybe it’s more important to recognize that we all have different ways of thinking about all of this. And there’s no one right or wrong way.

Having worked as a nurse with kids who are sick, and having a daughter with a disability, my experience is that we often tend to treat children with illnesses or disabilities, quite literally, “with kid gloves”. We don’t talk with the same kind of confrontational language about childhood illness. We tend to talk more about fairness, the vulnerability of children and the loss of childhood. We see vulnerability first, and then the child.

So often we see the illness, the wheelchair, the central lines, the equipment, the walker, and only then, after, do we see the child. We protect, we comfort, and we soften the world around these children – with all good intentions – but the result is that we, so often, see illness, disease, and disability first before we actually see children.

Then here comes this ad, this jarring, powerful, in-your-face ad, with these tough, wonderfully, resilient kids. Kids missing limbs. Kids on operating room tables. Kids being defibrillated. Kids who have an illness, or a disability, and this ad manages to ensure that the illness or the disability – or the defibrillator – is for once, not the first thing you see. I understand the objections many have to the imagery of battle, the violence of taking a baseball bat to a dialysis machine, or the idea of including a reference to fighting back against autism, but the reality was, for me, watching this felt empowering, compelling and refreshing. It felt relieving in a way, as if someone had read a few of my thoughts some days – the thoughts that I wouldn’t necessarily voice to others, as a mother of a kid with a disability.

After watching the ad a few times, I tried to figure out what it was that I liked about this ad. There are a few things:

First, there are the images. There’s not an image here that hasn’t been thought through carefully, I’m sure. And it shows. The battle scenes show kids in the front line, adults behind. When intermingled with operating room imagery, it forces you to remember that, in the operating room, the kid on that table really is the one on the front line. Not the rest of us, in there, who can put on gloves and masks, do our jobs, and go home at the end of a 12-hour shift. We’re the supporting warriors, with little to lose. The image of a girl on top of a pile of wheelchairs draws you to really see the child, not the mess of metal beneath her. The same with the girl with the lucha libre mask – I see her, not the hospital room around her. The little girl pulling her walker behind her, in this ad, forces us to acknowledge her incredible strength and determination, the hours of painful and grueling physiotherapy that it took to just get to where she is. She looks strong, powerful and invulnerable.

Second, there’s the idea of fighting. Against cystic fibrosis. Against kidney disease. Against cancer. Against autism. This is imagery many might not wish to embrace. And I also get that many object to adding autism onto a list that includes illnesses like cancer or kidney disease. There’s a lot of childhood disease, illnesses and disability out there that those who developed this ad could have chosen from, to highlight. Autism is an interesting and clearly controversial one. But you know what? Some days I’m really sick of autism. When I see my kid struggling with the tiniest thing that has thrown a wrench into her entire day I too just want to put on a lucha libre mask and deliver a flying thrust kick to autism. I want to run across a battlefield yelling if I thought it would do any good. I don’t feel like that every day. But when I do, I usually swallow that feeling and hold it somewhere inside. I don’t share it with others or ask others to understand, because I know many won’t and, well, that’s okay. It’s a tough thing to want to fight back against that which, in many ways for others, defines who my child is, defines the opportunities others will provide and defines how others both view and treat her. For me, she isn’t my “autistic child”, but rather, “my child who has autism”. Autism isn’t all she is, and it isn’t her sole defining feature, but it is here and it needs to be reckoned with. Some days we both are just tired and some days we’re angry and frustrated. What I don’t want is someone to tell me how to feel about those days. This ad acknowledges something that hasn’t been acknowledged, for me, almost ever. When I see that image of fighting back, it resonates – and puts something out there, out loud and in your face, that many parents of kids – and kids themselves – might well feel, but don’t have a place to express.

Finally, there’s the notion of undeniability. Watch the ad a few times, and you walk away with the word echoing in your head: Undeniable. These kids are undeniable. Their inherent strength, their fight, it’s undeniable. These illnesses are undeniably rotten sometimes. It sucks to be sick. It sucks, some days, for some kids, to have autism. It’s undeniable. And cancer, well, you can’t pretend it’s not there. It’s undeniably present and pervasive. Cystic fibrosis means intensive lifelong therapy, a shortened life span and frequent hospitalizations. I’ve watched a very good friend struggle, yes struggle, with cystic fibrosis, while it is true that he also flourished and was strong and wonderfully alive. But he struggled; it’s undeniable. He really did lose his fight against this undeniable disease. I can’t imagine any other words to use for him and for the deep loss those around him feel after his death. Many felt a great battle had been lost. We simply couldn’t unfeel that. This ad, I think, in some ways, says that, hey it’s okay to feel that.

And autism? Well, it’s undeniably constant. It permeates so much of what we do, and feel, and experience, for my daughter and for those around my daughter. But she’s also undeniable. You cannot see the autism without first seeing her. I see Georgia everywhere in this ad. She’s the kid standing on top of the wheelchairs and walkers that I was told would never walk, she’s the kid marching in the superhero cape that I was told I should institutionalize, and she’s the kid playing lucha libre that I was told would never have an imagination. She’s the kid dragging her walker behind her, after years of physiotherapy, just to prove everyone wrong. And it is not without fighting and battling some days that she still moves through her world. Undeniable. I’m glad someone finally said it.

Nancy Walton is an Associate Professor in the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University in Toronto. One of her areas of research examines the experience of parenting children with special needs and acting in the role of therapist. She is Georgia’s mother and writes a blog about parenting at







Climbing Things, Choking People, and Disability Inclusion (Guest Post)

I don’t remember why I had to go into the campus gym. As a nerdy college freshman who had no athletic interests and was in a wheelchair to boot, I felt out of place even being there. But while taking care of that long-forgotten errand, I saw something that would become a cornerstone in my life: a rock climbing wall.

As a kid, I would climb on anything I could — playground equipment, piles of mats in adapted PE class, anything I was physically capable of. I loved the creativity and problem-solving inherent to climbing. That impulse was still there at 18, so when I saw the wall, I immediately wanted to try it. But how? I have cerebral palsy that affects my balance (thus the wheelchair) and makes using my upper body difficult. One arm likes to reach up — when it’s not too spastic. The other prefers to stay closer to my body but is better at fine movements. Both arms move on their own and may or may not cooperate with what I want them to do. This did not portend success in rock climbing.

Sometime during winter quarter, I got up my courage and decided to visit the Outdoor Adventures office. I shakily introduced myself to the person in charge and said that I wanted to climb.

He was immediately enthusiastic about the idea. Unlike me, he knew of other climbers with disabilities and jumped into discussing possibile ways for me to climb. We talked about what I could and couldn’t do and what kind of gear I would need. From that moment, there was no question of whether I would climb, only how. A few weeks later, with the help of a full-body harness, I climbed for the first time. Despite being completely exhausted after a grand total of 20 minutes on the wall — climbing is hard and I was completely out of shape, having only recently begun to do any exercise after more than two years of inactivity — I fell in love with it.

At the wall, I learned to focus on my own progress rather than comparing myself to others. I spent weeks or months working on a single climb before any academic endeavour required such persistence and met people who remain friends to this day. (One is now a close colleague.) Wanting to climb better made me pay more attention to overall fitness. Eventually, I developed the endurance necessary with my slow pace, started using a regular harness, and surprised myself by learning to climb overhangs. I am now 33, have been climbing for most of my adult life, and can’t imagine going for long without it.

In 2014, however, I faced precisely this prospect after a massive water main break flooded much of the central part of campus. (After finishing my Ph.D. in ecology, I ended up working at the university where I had done my undergrad.) The rec center had reopened but the climbing wall would be closed for several months because the floor padding had to be replaced. While I was still doing gym workouts, I wanted something more fun than weights and cardio machines. I therefore decided to follow a childhood interest in martial arts and try Brazilian jiu jitsu, the choice being motivated largely by the fact that BJJ is a grappling art and the floor is my natural habitat. To start, I showed up to the first day of the beginner BJJ class.

While being on the floor felt comfortable to me, doing anything physical in a group setting certainly didn’t. (The only time I had done so was in a karate class I tried in undergrad.) Fortunately, someone had left a large punching bag lying on the floor and I used it to transfer from my chair to the mat without having to speak to anybody. I listened to the instructor’s introduction and then joined the other students, trying to keep up with the warm-up. (Calling it a warm-up seemed like an understatement, but I digress.) I could do, or sort of do, most of the movements and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the butt scooting I had come up with in childhood actually being taught. At some point, the assistant instructor came up and started helping me adapt some of the harder drills. Despite the fact that I managed to pop a toe doing a move that you couldn’t possibly hurt yourself doing, nobody questioned my being there and I came away from the first class knowing that I would return.

It wasn’t smooth sailing from there. Jiu jitsu isn’t easy for anyone and I’ve had more than my share of challenging moments. (Doing a drill with the instructor as my partner and mounting him backwards is high on the list.) But I loved the power (learning the rear naked choke on a much bigger guy got me completely hooked), the competitive outlet, and most of all, the mental challenge of sparring. And there was always support, both from the teachers and from fellow students. In fact, sometimes more advanced students would take the lead in coming up with an adaptation or substitution or making sure I was included when there was a guest instructor who didn’t know about me. There was no false cheerleading and discussions of how I was doing always felt honest, but the ongoing message was to keep at it. And I did, eventually going to my first open mat and training with people who had never met me before, then dropping in on classes at another school while we were on break, and then competing at Grapplers Heart, a tournament for grapplers with disabilities. I plan to stay on the mats for the foreseeable future — and given the number of gis in my closet, I had better!

What made these experiences of inclusion so successful? The thing that drew me to both climbing and BJJ — the constant puzzles that both offered — was part of what made them inclusive. Both activities emphasize technique and strategy over purely physical attributes. (In fact, BJJ started out as an adaptation of what is now called judo.) In both, there are many ways to achieve something and figuring out what to do is an intrinsic part of the activity. Most importantly, both embrace failure. Everyone who climbs falls off the wall — a lot. Everyone who trains BJJ gets tapped out — a lot. The only difference is the level at which these things happen. This results in a culture focused on individual improvement, at whatever pace. And this readily gives rise to inclusion.

Jane S. is an ecologist currently doing curriculum development in mathematical biology. She enjoys climbing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and any activity that involves thinking with your body. She also put way too much time into choosing the color of her most recent powerchair.

Shopping is my cardio (no, really!)



My mom, Linda, has lived primarily in a wheelchair since the spring of 2014; she suffers from an illness called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Before her diagnosis, the disease caused her already-developing dementia to become rapidly worse; on one horribly memorable night in February 2014, while I was over from England visiting my parents, she literally forgot how to walk. (NPH causes both dementia and mobility problems.) It was nightmarish to watch.

That visit was the last time I would see her not living in a wheelchair.

Since then, mom has been through the health-care wringer: she has a neurologist, a neurosurgeon (who performed the life-changing surgery that allowed her to learn to walk again – he never doubted her), a community care access coordinator, an occupational therapist, a regular caregiver paid for by the Ontario government… the list goes on. We live in a small university town in a wealthy province, and we benefit from three major teaching hospitals and a dedicated geriatric facility all within a few minutes’ drive. So mom was set up to bounce back from the worst NPH could throw at her, and she did.

Still, she spends most of her days in her wheelchair, even now. The time it took to reach the NPH diagnosis, meet the neurosurgeon, decide on a care approach, have the surgery, and then go through rehabilitation was long, and in that time she lost a large amount of muscle strength in her legs and hips. Her long-term back condition also got much worse. These days, she walks regularly with her walker in the house as a rehab exercise, but she isn’t comfortable using the walker too frequently. She fears falling – very understandably. And she won’t walk with it outside (not yet).

This poses a challenge for her, and for my dad (her primarily caregiver), from a wellness point of view. Not walking = not walking! Not moving from the waist down, not observing the wide world around, missing out on stimulation both physical and mental. This is the primary health issue we deal with these days: how to help mom exercise, within her comfort zone, both her body and her brain.

Needless to say, we’re working on a variety of approaches. One of her favourite, though, is going shopping.


Carrie Bradshaw: she said a lot of crap, but this ain’t a bit of it.

Back in the day, my mom was a massively active woman. When I was too lazy to get out of bed at 6am (hey! I was, like, thirteen!), she took over my paper route. She walked the dog three times a day, every day, around our neighbourhood in North Edmonton. She walked long distances without the dog, just for fun. She gardened constantly, skipping and hopping and singing her way through her chores. She was not just active, but lively.

She also liked to shop. Like, a lot. Out at the mall or the big-box grocery stores, she’d walk miles while browsing the aisles. I hope that doesn’t sound condescending, because it shouldn’t – it’s not. Shopping includes walking, bending, lifting, the bodily contortions required to change in and out of potential outfits in badly designed, teeny-tiny change rooms, and so on. There is actually a huge amount of physical labour involved in “going shopping” – among other forms of labour, too.


The women in the image above have tongues in cheeks, but make no mistake: our culture mocks the idea of shopping as anything more than frivolity in part in order to mock the women whose primary job it is, and has always been, to shop for their families (or for the families of those for whom they work). Our culture trivialises those women’s labour and pretends that labour isn’t integral to the workings of free-market capitalism. In fact, women as consumers have always formed the backbone of Western capitalism. And shopping has always been great physical and mental exertion. In the early days of the department store and what we might now call shopping-as-usual, the freedom to browse and buy gave women the attendant freedom to be out alone, or in small groups, on city streets without being accused of being sex workers. Really. In other words, shopping, at the beginning of the modern period (roughly circa 1900), literally gave women the freedom to walk, unmolested, in public near their homes.

(Curious to learn more? My friend Marlis Schweitzer has written a terrific book that takes up this issue, and more. Check it out here.)

All this to say: shopping is now a regular workout for mom, with me as personal trainer, and I’m thrilled about it. She gets a challenge when we get into and out of the car: this is a transfer she completes herself with the help of a portable handle that can be inserted into the side of any car door frame. She gets another challenge anytime we try on clothes, which I insist we do (even if she claims to know her size in every single outfit we pick! Every personal trainer knows that trick…). Last week, she stood up, sat down, and otherwise shimmied and manoeuvred into three different pairs of trousers while we shopped for the right fit – after climbing out of her chair and into the totally wheelchair-inaccessible change room. (Thanks, Hudson’s Bay Company. Sort of.) That was quite a bit of ab and leg work for someone who largely sits all day.

Sometimes, too, we bring her walker with us, park ourselves in a small shop or section of a department store, and she lifts herself out of her chair and browses a bit using the walker as her aid. If she becomes exhausted and cannot continue, she either sits on her walker’s built-in seat for a moment, or I simply bring the chair to where she is and she takes a break.

As important as this physical work is for mom, the mental stimulation of shopping is even more valuable. Her memory’s decline was slowed by her surgery, but it continues; she is living with dementia, which means she needs to find basic ways to be challenged, mentally, every single day. At the shops all the neat stuff for sale offers plenty of useful stimulation, as does thinking about prices and whether or not something is worth the splurge. (She’s an elderly woman in a wheelchair who worked hard all her life! I always say the splurge is worth it. Sometimes she agrees with me.) Last week we encountered a really helpful sales assistant at the perfume counter, and she gave mom a host of samples to investigate. That olfactory stimulation, too, was mental exercise.

In my first regular post on FFI a month ago I wrote about the “We’re the Superhumans” campaign for Team GB’s paralympians. Mom isn’t about to pole vault, swim, or cycle her way into any record books, but who cares? Like many of the ordinary people in that campaign’s trailer, she is carrying on with her life as she lives it now, seeking gymnastics where she can find them and hoping to enjoy herself along the way. For her, exercise has become about living as well as she can, in her body as she finds it each day, making opportunities happen when she can, and taking pleasure in the ride as much as possible (especially when I’m driving).

In fact, that’s probably what exercise should be about for all of us.


My mom, Linda Solga, rocking her new autumn outfit. (Photo by Dieter Solga)

Until next month!





The Difference a Year Makes (Guest Post)

by Abby Eabby

It’s amazing what you can do in a year.

At this time last year, I was just getting off the cane for good, but after a long hard walk, my right leg would ache for a couple of days. That junky, piece of shit hip I’d had replaced only months before that had been jammed so high up into the pelvic socket that the joint was basically just bone grinding against bone, and because the femoral head was out of place, it seriously restricted my movement. Forget loss of muscle flexibility (that happened quite early) or the pain (which I was used to), the collision of bone stopped me from being able to take full-length strides. I couldn’t extend my leg all the way back before, and trying virtually guaranteed that my hip would start that deep, low ache that would get progressively worse through the day. By the time I was nineteen, my range of motion adducting/abducting was only thirty degrees. It’s supposed to be ninety.

Now when I walk, I can push forward hard. I can feel my glutes working and I can feel the length of the stride. No more grinding ache. No more shrieking pain. No more days as an involuntary shut-in. (I still do the voluntary shut-in thing, though. You’ll never take that away from me.) And now as I watch the Olympics, I marvel at the strong, sculpted body of the female athletes. I want those thighs, those shoulders.

I’m working on it, however slowly. I still think back to the two-day training and assessment I did back in April. I was worried about it. I didn’t know how my hip would hold up, since the muscles in my right leg are still weaker than my left, and I’d had trouble holding up a shield for more than a few minutes at a time before this. But I did it, and miraculously, the only thing that hurt were the bruises.

Now that I’m out of the re-enactment group, I keep falling off the exercise bandwagon and then jumping back on. Mostly, I’m trying to find ways to make it not feel like a burden while still gradually getting results. I’m combining light weights with light, low-impact aerobics and doing much more work to tone and strengthen my core and upper body. This is not about losing weight, however. In undergrad, I weighed about 135 pounds, and I looked good; now, I weigh 175 pounds and I fucking FEEL good.

One day I’d like to pick up a sword again, maybe get into competition fighting if I get good enough. But that’s an investment in time and money I can’t afford at this time. In the meantime, I will develop my physical strength and endurance, as I have proven time and again I have more than enough emotional strength and endurance.

I will fight like a girl. And I will win.

Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She is not a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.

Movement and disability: Does mainstream discomfort keep those who crawl immobile?

I’ve been thinking a lot about disability and movement in light of Tracy’s worry that the language of “sitting is the new smoking” and “sitting kills” is ableist. I agree that there are problems with our public health messaging around improving our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. (Note my use of “our” in the previous sentence. Who is included? Who isn’t?)

On my recent post on modern chair design and the role chairs play in our sedentary lifestyle Tracy commented,

“I think this point about chair design is interesting and I like the change in emphasis, away from sitting and more oriented towards the way chairs would have us sit. I contacted Shelley Tremain (philosophy of disability scholar and disability activist; see her new series on the Discrimination and Disadvantage website: this morning about to about it — I’ve learned a lot from her about ableist language around the “sitting is the new smoking” slogan which I for one will never ever use. She pointed out something that’s really important to note. The shift from sitting itself to the chair is an interesting shift, but it’s worth noting also that sometimes chairs (even those with fairly traditional designs, i.e. wheelchairs) actually increase mobility and make it possible for people who might otherwise not be able to get around or be active to do so. So the chair may have its limitations for some people, but for others they are a far cry from evil and in fact enable movement and activity and facilitate access to resources. Thank you, Shelley!”

You can certainly see ableist versions of the “move more, sit less” campaigns. As I’ve become more aware of ableist language in efforts meant to encourage everyday movement, I see the problems with phrases such as “sitting is the new smoking.”

First, there’s the issue of healthism.  See our blog post which talks about healthism and respectability here. Caring about your health is your choice. Smoking is wrong, in part, because it harms others. (This is a bit complicated in a country with publicly funded healthcare. Presumably this gives the government some scope to encourage people to make healthier choices.) But second, and more importantly, sitting isn’t bad for everyone. For some people it’s the best choice. Think about a wheelchair user for whom sitting in a chair opens up a world of mobility and choices. That’s not unhealthy. It’s liberating.

I’ve watched how this plays out in campaigns about using the stairs.

See this poster which many friends shared with the comment, “Real super heroes don’t make ableist assumptions.” After all, not everyone can take the stairs. Indeed, when my knees are bothering me sometimes I’m not able to use the stairs even though I can bike hundreds of kilometers.


It’s certainly true that wheelchairs can be wonderfully liberating things. See the other Samantha’s post about the Warrior Dash. That wouldn’t have been possible for Samantha without her wheelchair.

The team at the end of the race, muddy and smiling!

But I also worry that mainstream discomfort with non standard modes of movement can keep wheelchair users inactive. The message seems to be if you can’t walk, you use a wheelchair, even if that’s not the option you’d prefer.

One of my favorite characters in the documentary Fixed, which by the way, you must watch, it’s a wonderful film, is Gregor Wolbring a professor at the University of Calgary. He uses a wheelchair but it’s not his only way of getting around.

I love the scenes of him at home, getting in and out of his car, and boarding a plane crawling up the steps and down the aisle to his seat. At home he quickly sheds the wheelchair and gets about his house under his own steam. His movement is graceful and speedy but it challenges our stereotypes of how the human body moves. Watching him board the the plane I wasn’t sure if it was the air line staff who were uncomfortable with the way he climbed the stairs into the plane or if it was me.

I’ve watched the film a few times now because I use it in class and I’ve wondered about my unease. Partly it’s fear of Gregor Wolbring falling but that’s clearly ridiculous. We’ve both been getting about using our preferred modes of mobility for some number of decades. I hope no one worries about me falling when I climb stairs.

Is it undignified? That’s clearly an ableist thought. How do standing and walking come to signify “dignity”?

It seems we have two acceptable modes of being, walking and wheeling. But wheeling isn’t the only option for those who can’t walk. Our discomfort with crawling shouldn’t be the thing that keeps people still when independent motion is the option they’d prefer.

Fixed makes the point that there is incredible variation in human abilities. We should delight in variety, not shy away from it. It urges us to resist the urge to pick one standard and “fix” everyone who doesn’t meet it.

I think this about size. So too with mobility.

Finally, there’s the worry that things that are wonderful for some people–moving sidewalks in airports, elevators in private homes, even second floor laundry–aren’t wonderful for others. How do we celebrate increased accessibility without turning into a country where we all use moving sidewalks and elevators? Yes, let people choose. That’s obviously right. But we need to encourage a culture of movement in its many forms and varieties.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time with some amazing disabled cyclists. In Australia I rode with Michael Milton, a one legged cyclist. I’ve raced crits with him, he’s not slow. He doesn’t generally use an artificial leg which surprises people and I’ve never seen him in a wheelchair. Mostly he uses his bike for transportation.

Who is Michael Milton?

Michael John Milton OAM is an Australian Paralympic skier, Paralympic cyclist and paratriathlete with one leg. With 6 Gold, 3 Silver and 2 Bronze he is the most successful Australian Paralympic Athlete in the Winter Games.


Let’s move, yes. But let’s celebrate human diversity too. It’s not all a matter of sitting or standing, taking the stairs or taking the elevator. Let’s embrace all the options.

“My Body is not the Unfortunate Container for my Personality” and Other Lessons I learned Art Modeling (Guest Post)

by Samantha Walsh

walshI would like to thank “Fit is a Feminist Issue” and specifically Samantha (who shares my name) for the opportunity to write a guest post. This will be my second time guest blogging. You can read my earlier post on wheelchairs, the warrior dash, and inclusion here. I am a fan of the blog so it is fantastic to take part. Recently, I was a model for a life drawing class (Art Model). This is a paid position where you sit for the class to draw or paint you. It is four hours. You hold the pose for fifteen minutes at a time (or more if you can do so). The class I sat for usually draws models of whom are able bodied and the model is naked. The experience of art modeling required that I become okay (but ideally comfortable) with my own body. My blog will be mediation on my body and body image related discourse.

About Me

To begin, here is some information about myself: I am 31 years old and I work in a post-secondary institution. I am doctoral candidate in Sociology. I also have a condition called cerebral palsy and it effects my coordination and ability to walk. I use a wheelchair to get around. I have only been an average weight according to the BMI index once in my life and it was for two years in high school. I weight trained every day, played wheelchair basketball 3-4 times a week and my mother worked for a weight loss company. Everything in our house was portion controlled. I was 5’5 and 130lbs. Since then, my weight has fluctuated. I have quit basketball but continued to have periods in my life where I am incredibly active and then others where I am inactive. I have always had a tenuous relationship with my body. I learned very early that my body was in need of repair. Much of my time between the ages of infancy to ten were taken up by visits to physical therapist, doctors and specialist who have endeavored into attempts to cure me or make me walk. My mom eventually, in a bold move, decided that functionality was far more necessary than walking. She allowed me to get a wheelchair, put me in adapted sports and installed ramps in our house. Walking was associated with fitness and stretching; wheeling was associated with movement, play and function. My wheelchair is the best thing that my mother has ever given to me. The fact that she got me a wheelchair in face of conventional wisdom suggesting that her soul goal should be that I walk, while folks were saying “if you put your kid in a wheelchair she will never get out” speaks to my mom’s convection and depth of character. The fact is I would have never walked, or I would have walked in a way that would have been limiting (if you walk and like it good for you). The body may crave movement, but not everybody craves the same movement. In the same way some of us are runners and some are not; some of us are swimmers and some are not; some of us are walkers and some are not- I am not a walker.

I struggle (sometimes) not being a walker in a world that is designed for folks who walk. I am the unexpected body most of the time. However, I struggle more (if we can quantify struggle) with conventional beauty. As I said before I have been overweight according to the BMI index most of my life, I would not consider myself one to have conventional beauty. I could list many things I wish I could change. In the same way that my mom tried in earnest for the first part of my life to make me walk because that’s what society said was important. I have spent my whole life trying to make myself beautiful. Not spiritually beautifuland not beautiful to friends and family, but the type of beautiful, that sells cars: that manufactured beautiful that makes us by spandex underwear and teeth whitener.


How Did I Decide to do Art Modeling:

The literal story of how I became an art model is pretty basic but for context, here it is. I have a friend who does it and she said it was a good part time job. She gave me some contacts and I started cold calling. I booked a session with an art studio of which did not require a portfolio and was interested in diverse models. The director and I discussed poses I could do and we settled on something. That is physically how I became an art model.

How I intellectually became an art model is a very different story. I have recently had a paradigm shift in how I think about my own body and the standard I hold myself to. I have always thought of my body as the unfortunate container of my personality. However, in the past ten years this perception has shifted quite a bit. Having the privilege to study Sociology has given me amply time to consider and reflect on the notion of beauty. Furthermore, because of this I have come to understand my body as a tool rather than a site of work. My body lets me do all kinds of interesting things from a “warrior dash” to sex (sorry mom). This shift in thinking has been mediated by many things. For one, I had very skilled trainer who taught me about challenging the body for the sake of the challenge rather than as punishment. In addition, a friend of mine became a weight lifting instructor, and her passion and love of her own body was truly infectious. I was also a part of a cross-fit style gym with a focus on movement called StrengthBox for a year. My involvement in the StrengthBox community was incredibly transformative it changed my body and further solidified the idea of the body as a tool for entertainment and joy. There were all kinds of folks there and no one seemed particularly concerned about who was beautiful and who was not. Everyone was there for their own sake and the sake of movement. A recent unrelated injury has caused me to change my fitness routine but, the experience was truly transformative. I am not completely unburdened by social pressure to conform, but rather I seek spaces of like minded folks and opportunities that challenge me. I want to use my body in the immediate rather than wait for when it’s perfect because, just like walking, “perfect” (or that abstract concept that is) may never happen for me. Art modeling seemed like a novel experience that would certainly force me to appreciate my body or at least use it.

I had originally wanted to start my Art Modeling in the summer during the peak of my StrengthBox days and when I had a tan. However, I ended up doing it in January post injury, while my body was showing signs of injury, recovery, rest and a lack of motion. While I was not thrilled about the timing, I am pleased that I did it because it was truly a chance to live my new paradigm. I was not working on my body-my body was ready, as it has always been. It just took me quite some time to notice.


Art Modeling: the Day of…

Decorum dictates you show up at least fifteen minutes before the class. You “set the pose”: this means with your clothes on you hold the pose. While you are in the pose, someone tapes marks on the stage so you know exactly where to sit. This is also the time when lighting is staged and the artist has decided where they will sit. You then go to the washroom to take off your clothes and then you come back in a bath robe or in my case, a little sundress. You get into the pose again, and then take your cover off. However, in my case the class all decided they liked the sundress I was wearing as a cover so they would paint me in that rather than naked. One of the first things I noticed was how symbiotic the relationship between the painters and the model was. Several of the painters there said the room was too cold for the model to be naked, and so a heater was turned on. The art director set the tone and everyone knew my name and that it was my first time. Everyone addressed me by name. I had control over how long I would sit. Artists were able to comment on my pose, but I had the final say or a compromise would be reached. My imagination had been that I would have little control or voice in the situation. The overall explanation to this is that if the model is unhappy or uncomfortable it becomes harder to paint them. This was fantastically empowering because everyone thanked me for my time and said positive non-creepy things. For example they would say things like:“you sit very still”, “you are fun to paint” and “your eyes change colour”. As an aside it is actually frowned upon to objectify or say things that make the model uncomfortable. I thought about a saying I heard once about the safety of women: that theoretically “a woman should be able to walk down the street, drunk, and naked and/or alone and still be totally safe”. In life drawing class you are naked (or in a little dress) and alone (you could theoretically be drunk I suppose if you kept it to yourself but, this is not something I would try) but, you are totally safe and it feels that way.

Second, I also noticed that no one said anything about me being disabled or assumed that I was anything else but the model. I don’t know if they were just being polite, but everyone agreed I was the model and they would be painting me. I think this is another example of how access is created through relationships. While the physical space was accessible, the class had to accept me as their model, and further to this the art director who hired me had to be okay with the fact that the pose I would do would ultimately be the one my body allowed. I was worried I would be second rate to a standing model that this would be an experiment but it was not. A good model is someone who likes themselves (at least a little) and can sit for a long time.

Third, I assumed that the hardest part would be being naked. The hardest part was sitting still and letting all of me either painfully fills with lactic acid or fall asleep due to lack of circulation. Being disabled was an asset because in four hours I only got up twice (during the breaks I just stretched on the stage) and I can’t lift my legs easily, so they sat still. The pose I was doing put all the weight through my arm. Most people cannot hold the pose I was in but, even with the recent injury my shoulders are still over developed. Apparently I was fun to draw because I seemed just as interested in being painted as they were to paint me. Everyone said a lot of positive things. I didn’t smile though because I was physically uncomfortable for a lot of it- it took a lot of endurance.. I assume that this is why there are so many paintings of women who look horribly sad.

Can I Take a Picture of Your Picture of Me?

Another interesting nuance was the notion that I was being stared at but, with purpose and intent. It was one of the only times in my life that I have known people were staring at me and not been intensely annoyed. I am used to folks staring because I am disabled. But in this situation, everyone was staring at me because that was the point. It also became interesting because, the artists had to ask to take photos of me– they do this so they can work on the painting later, and I could say yes or no. I myself also had to ask if I could capture photos of their work, because I wanted these images to use as a portfolio. There is share vulnerability when the act of exchanging images is mediated through consent. This was so powerful for me because, often as a person with a disability I don’t get to control who stares and who does not. It was also interesting to be the person staring at something, in this case an individual’s artistic creation, and how that could make someone feel vulnerable.

Art Modeling From Job to Body Based Meditation

Overall, the opportunity to art model has served as an occasion to think about my body, and the interplay I live between expectations and reality. It has not solved all of my body image worries but, it has softened them. In art modeling my body is not the unfortunate container for my personality, but rather my body is interesting, valuable and useful.