by Khaled Allen

If you suddenly lost your hearing, would you excuse yourself from competing in extreme sports? If you were suddenly wheelchair-bound, would you stop an intense training program?

For a lot of people, it doesn’t take that much to get them to trade the gym for the living room couch.

But if you take a close look at those conditions, you would see that it needn’t keep you from training or competing. In fact, for a lot of people, these things are just part of life. They work around them and get on with their athletic goals and aspirations.

A lot of our Spartan athletes compete with what some people refer to as disabilities. Judging from their performances, this might be a misnomer, but it does put into perspective what a lot of us consider a viable excuse not to race.

Crossfitter Lisa Nunley

The CrossFit.com WOD for October 25th featured the picture of CrossFitter Lisa Nunley doing an overhead press in a wheel chair. The rack was adjusted for her position. One of the athletes at my gym had arthritis in his hips and knees that prevented him from squatting more than a few inches. We worked technique tirelessly, slowly improving his range of motion. I myself have had injuries that prevented me from using my right arm for anything short of opening and closing doors. I spent a few weeks doing all my WODs with my left arm only (since I’m sure there is a lot of question out there, I’ll lay your fears to rest: I did scale the weights).

We have had several Spartan racers who are deaf, including David Krueger and Peter St. John. They are used to it, but would you be out there trudging up the mountains if you suddenly lost your hearing?

To them, lack of hearing has little bearing on their ability to run a race. It’s very easy to look at a problem and blow it out of proportion, but these athletes show us that, oftentimes, what’s holding us back isn’t the limitation itself. Instead, we use that limitation to justify our own lack of effort or belief that we aren’t good enough anyway.

My favorite example of an athlete defying the stereotypes of handicaps is Aimee Mullins. Many of us have seen the picture of her, poised at the starting blocks just before a sprint, on two prosthetic, carbon fiber legs. That’s right; she doesn’t have real legs below the knee. How’s that for an excuse not to compete in a race?

Judging from her life, it’s clear she doesn’t really consider that an excuse to opt out. In fact, she prefers to see adversity as a reason, rather than an obstacle, to excel.

The story of Oscar Pistoriusadds an interesting element to the view that adversity can be an advantage. Oscar, ofSouth

Photograph of Oscar Pistorius by Elvar Pálsson

Africa, decided to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and was part of the South African 400m relay team which took home the silver medal. But before he could compete, he faced huge opposition from the Olympic Committee, which was concerned that his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage. Some speculated that the Olympic Committee didn’t want to entertain the possibility that human ‘perfection’ might be challenged.

So adversity can take many forms, not all of them physical. You can face opposition from friends and family, who might think it’s dangerous, or even arrogant, to run an extreme obstacle race. How quickly will you give up when you face social stigma for avoiding late parties to put in a good performance? How long will your diet last when you have to turn down every pumpkin pie this season? Or will you see those sacrifices in a different light? The cost of success is embracing adversity, rather than resenting it.

My point: there is always a way to get the job done. For everyone out there who says, “I could never do that because of X,” there is someone out there doing exactly that, despite X, and you know what, they only rise higher because of it.

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Keep in mind that there is a big difference between a handicap and an injury. Injuries need to be rested. Period. I can’t overemphasize the importance of taking care of your body, a concept many extreme athletes tend to neglect. Adversity can take the form of an injury, but the best way to deal with that is to let it heal and then train back up. If you absolutely cannot let it heal, then you’ve got to make the best decision in the situation and try to compete without making it worse.

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