Lifting the Veil

David Ethan Kennerly – Summer, 2001

Colorado Springs – US Association of Blind Athletes Power-lifting Qualification


When you witness the power the blind exert, you realize two things: normality is a fallacy and if you have the gift of sight—or any gift—use it. Use it for the benefit of humankind. Use every ounce of it.

The kids were friendly, still searching in the darkness for a familiar face, a place to not be a stranger anymore. "You have curly hair," a plump, girl in black spandex and a shirt said. It might have been stating the obvious to you, but it wasn't obvious to half the people in the room. She had glaucoma; others were completely blind.

"That's right," I replied with a smile. The friendliness of the room warmed my heart. They weren't competing at all. Not with anyone present, except perhaps the forty-five pound barbell or the five to four hundred pound weight plates upon it, which they power-lifted. They were ritually gathered together around the bar and the phantoms of darkness that swarmed like a tornado around it. Gravity, the unstoppable force: They were gathered to temporarily defy it.

Lisa, who sat beside her, all eighty-or-less pounds of her, was among the completely blind. So what. After she was led to the barbell, she proved someone wrong. Her face showed the intention. A ghost stood before her within arm's reach. It didn't understand or care to understand; it was suffering incarnate, a tornado of delusion, anger, greed, and frustration. Disability, for it, extended into the nether reaches beyond sight. Its phantom tendrils infected the soul. Perhaps it spread into intelligence, strength, cognition, or singing ability.

Lisa bent down, for the third time this thunderous afternoon, to take the bar. She planted her stick-like legs, wrapped her hands around the coarse barbell, left over and right under. With a force and fury she was up, her knees and back straightening, the bar was surprised at its levitation from the comfortable padding. She growled and grunted all at once. The phantom, the phantom, banished a bit at a time, with each unexpected triumph. At the coach's call, she set the bar down again, her deadlift done, her phantom banished. A circuit of handclaps secured the silence of the bigotgeist.

She slightly swept the air in her timid return to her seat. Each seat in the small weight gym of the Colorado School for the Deaf-Blind represented a separate section of the US, each attempting to qualify for US Special Olympics.

"If I lift this," Darryl joked before shouldering three hundred some pounds, "I'll get my sight back." He shakily stepped back from the red rack and planted. He squatted and struggled. The weight of a lifetime of special treatment buckled him. But his head and eyes faced heaven and he rose.

The coach, Rob, helped everyone up. He pointed out the specific form, technique, and psychology to lifting the bar away from its lethargic cradle and proudly standing. Even if he sometimes didn't tell the lifter how many plates the volunteers had slid on the barbell. Under his expert coaching, Marlin, a compact, chiseled olive-skinned powerhouse lifted nearly three times his own body weight in the squat and deadlift. Under his expert coaching, Ben, a younger and wider version of Brad Pitt, broke the US Special Olympics Power-lifting record for his weight and age category.

Thunder ripped thousands of cubic feet of oxygen with gigawatts of power somewhere above the summer of Colorado Springs. "It's an omen," Ben's high school coach said as Ben bent over the four hundred pound barbell. Each pound was a pound he'd received, an evil glance or an averted eye or a whispered gossip far away, born of misconception, or another of the four causes of suffering. Ben's deadlift was a vajra. His suddenly erect back was a lightning and thunderbolt of it's own, dispelling the illusion. Gigawatts of emotion ripped the geist of bigotry asunder. Each spectator and co-competitor cupped a pocket of thunder in his or her hands again and again: clap, clap, clapˇ¦.

Little raindrops fell, though my uncle's windshield wipers would clear them away. It was a proud time. Anyone who witnessed would have been struck by the lightning. It was contagious.

It seared my heart especially, because one of them was in the ˇ°50 and overˇ± age group. And she is mom.

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