There is no hiding the scars on Silken Laumann’s tanned leg. More than 20 years after the injury that almost ended her international rowing career, there is still a misshapen chunk missing from her calf.
She spoke about that injury during a talk to a group of parents at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital last week. She described the collision with another boat 10 weeks before the 1992 Olympics that resulted in pieces of her wooden boat being imbedded in her leg. After five operations, she was out of hospital and walking with a cane but determined to be in the Olympics. A few weeks later, she rowed a practice 2000-metre (Olympic race distance) as fast as she could. She was 90 seconds off her pace.
Pre-injury, she had been a favourite to win the gold. Sitting in her boat after that practice race, she said it all seemed hopeless.
But to be in that Olympic final, she had to balance herself between the reality of her injury and the dream of a medal.
This is the same attitude that she applies to raising her autistic step-daughter, Kilee.
“We all have moments with our kids when it feels hopeless.” she said. “You have to suspend yourself between hope and reality.”
We all have hopes for our children: that they will learn to speak; that they will increase their vocabulary; that they will graduate out of diapers; that they will weight-bear; that they will recover from surgery; that they will walk; that they will control their emotional escalations; that they will stop hitting. The list goes on.
Parents of disabled children often don’t express their hopes out loud. It hurts too much. Often, I see Deane walking or talking as normal as can be – in my dreams
But when I wake up, I know those are only dreams. When I go into his room to get him up and see that huge smile, I forget about the dreams. Yes, feeding him is a slow process and reading him the same books over and over again is tedious, but hearing him laugh at his favourite lines or his sister’s antics is incredible family time. This is my reality, which out weighs any hope of unrealistic change.
Silken, a person who knows all about having hard-to-reach dreams, said the most valuable lesson she has learned from Kilee is how to live in the present.
“I believe the world is possible for all my kids, but we need to love them for who they are today.”
I couldn’t agree more.