Sonny Davis

Today, I want to share with you a story written by Sonny Davis and found on the blog named: Sport At Its Best – There’s more to be gained than victory. Sonny is a tremendous wheelchair athlete. As I mull over my disappointment over the lack of television coverage and other media for the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics, I realize I am also a part of the problem. For all of the energy and excitement I put into writing about my Olympic experience, I put none into sharing Paralympic stories and triumphs.

Sonny’s story is amazing and reflects a character I can only describe as determined. Sonny’s life has not always been easy as he deals with muscular dystrophy, but his attitude? Well, we could all take a lesson there. I hope you like his story and share it with others.

“Greetings. I go by Sonny Davis. A few years ago it was a personal dream of mine to become a Paralympian. At age 5 doctors diagnosed me with a neural muscular disorder called Charcot Marie Tooth disease, which is a form of Muscular Dystrophy. There is a degeneration of muscle and nerve present in my legs and my hands. I live a “walk and roll” lifestyle. Some days I feel good to walk and others I’ll take to the chair ergo: “Sonny and Chair”.

In sport, due to my condition, classification has always been a grey area for me. During my competitive years I never once met an athlete with Muscular Dystrophy. As far as my coach and I knew, I was the only one. This was a blessing and a curse, for my abilities far outweighed my disabilities. I have pushed wheelchair all my life. In spite of wasting and atrophy in my forearms and hands, I have developed great upper body strength and I can sit up soldier straight in a race chair. This is an important detail when classifying disabled athletes.

People are confused when they see me rolling in a chair one day and the next I’m up and walking with a cane. “It’s a miracle!” But to someone who is classifying me as an athlete and gauging my current stamina to my projected strength, this was, I imagine, a complete headache. Wheelchair athletics is divided into classes of skill and ability, like boxing is divided into weight classes. I raced in a variety of classes throughout my racing career. If I race in too high a class, I start off with the leaders, but my weakness for sprinting kicks in and I quickly fall behind. Too low a class, and I don’t feel particularly sportsmanlike. After a couple of years’ racing experience, my coach and I knew exactly where I’d be most competitive. Any hopes of making it to the Beijing Paralympics would solely depend on being cleared for that class by the qualifying judges.

Japan was my very first marathon. The competition was unbelievable. Athletes from all over the globe showed up to this world-renowned event and the good news was that I was finally given the classification I so desired to achieve. Now I just had to put my head down, do my best and finish the race.

I knew the finish line wasn’t far. The volume of the crowd peaked as I entered the stadium. Only three racers in my class were in front of me now. They worked together and took turns drafting each other the whole way. I had successfully pursued them and was about to receive the thrill of victory. The track was fast and I was determined to finish strong. Four hundred meters to go, feeling stronger than ever, I was now gaining speed to the right of the trio; I would overtake them on the first turn, or so I thought.

Suddenly, my front wheel jerked sharply to the side steering me right into the leader of the trio. Before I knew it we were all crashing and tumbling over one another. We must have looked like a pile of dying transformers. Damage sustained: right tire and fender bent totally out of shape, and just like that, it was over…but I wouldn’t accept that. I had come this far, the only thing left to do was push. I could hear the swell of the crowd, and could feel that some of those cheers were for me.

Athletes zoomed by me, finishing with ease and finesse. I had lost my speed, my rank, even the chair I was sitting in but not my determination. The finish line wasn’t beyond me, it wasn’t out of reach. With every push, I was a few feet closer. I could just hear the crowd yelling “GO! KEEP GOING!”

I accepted my fate, and the fact that thousands of eyes just saw me transcend embarrassment. But my poor, damaged chair had got me this far, I would let it end the race with dignity… or maybe it was my own dignity at stake. Then I realize I’m not alone, I am joined by a fellow Canadian, Dana Halvorson. He generously matched my pace, and for the last 50 meters, we rode side by side. Head held high, I crossed the finish line with my countryman.

For years, as muscular dystrophy claimed more and more of my arms and legs, I didn’t understand what my purpose was. I knew only that what I had to do, I had to do fast, while my body could still handle it. I wanted to do something great, and for years I thought it was to represent Canada as a Paralympian. To reach that goal, I competed in dozens of races against hundreds of people. I wore the Maple Leaf with pride when I won, with sportsmanship when I lost, and when my chair was twisted out of shape under several other racers in Japan, I wore it as a badge of honour.

In Holland in 2006 at the World Championships I received the results of yet another re-classification. Team Canada’s head coaches would appeal the decision twice and after the second time I agreed that the decision was not likely to change and the matter was dropped. I was now in the category with the big guns; faster, leaner, stronger, meaner. In a way I felt complemented. Everyone close to me knew there was no way I could hold up in a race with those old hats. I would be left in the dust. Ultimately I wouldn’t even get the chance – the Canadian roster was full in my new category and I was benched. And so ends my Paralympic dream.

Two years later I realized I had a second dream. I spent time away from the track to contemplate a Canadian figure I have always admired: Terry Fox, a master of persistence. Driven until the day he died. Whenever he was asked what kept him going on his quest to conquer cancer he would say, “I would just run to next telephone poll”.

He was a great inspiration to me. So I am taking a moment at this time in my life to rebirth a childhood dream and accept a new challenge. In the spring of 2010, I will begin the journey across Canada in a wheelchair. I will take everything that has helped me, all the research I have done and continue to do, my experiences and life lessons, the music I wish to share and the love I have received thus far in my life and give it all back, so people out there suffering or clinging to an idea of themselves, trapped in a prison of their own design, will know that there is a better way.

I wish to inspire at least one person, to help them see their life as a gift and to give that gift to the world unabashed. I will raise truth and awareness around Muscular Dystrophy; a name and a challenge that by embracing, I become free of.

In the spirit of Terry Fox and in the face of a wasting disease,

while I still can…

I will do more than I have ever done.”

Please visit Sonny’s website and support his effort to complete his Marathon of Freedom.