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  • Writer's picturePeta

What do you think about disability sport?

Well, my experience and perspective of disability sport may course some disagreement.

I have never felt comfortable in the idea of participating in disability sport. It's not because I'm lazy (while maybe a little bit) it has many more serious reasons.

You can ask Peta a question via:


You can follow Peta's personal account on Instagram @petahooke


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast, answering your questions on what it's like to live with a disability. My name is Peta. I'm your host. I have cerebral palsy and this week I got a fantastic question. If you want to ask me a question, there are three ways you can do so via my Instagram @petahooke, by email or via my website OK, without any further ado, let's get into it.

[00:00:47] This week's question was from John. John asked me.

John [00:00:51] Peta, have you ever played sport and what do you think about disability sport?

Peta [00:00:59] As a woman with a physical disability, I definitely have my thoughts and opinions on disability sport. I want to flag right now that, of course, this is only my opinion and I only have one type of disability. I don't know what it's like to have a different type of disability, but my experience in and around disability sport is quite negative.

[00:01:27] The origins of my opinion of disability sport I spoke about briefly in a previous podcast, the podcast was called What's the Most Surprising Thing About Having a Disability? I talk about how I didn't realise that if you have a disability, you're only really considered in society in three ways. One, you're the sick kid in the Royal Children's Hospital. Two, you're that guy on the TAC ad That had a horrible accident and is now in a wheelchair. Or three, you play disability sport and you're now an athlete in that sport. Like a Dylan Alcott. If you haven't listened to that episode, I highly recommend you do so.

A professional athlete who has a disability
Dylan Alcott wining a Tennis Championship

[00:02:14] For some reason, I've always felt really uncomfortable with the idea of participating in sport, and since receiving this question, I have had to reflect on why that is. Because I am who I am when I don't quite know how I feel about something or why I feel a certain way about something, I go back to old Peta and look at academic journal articles. I've looked at a number of journal articles both in the 90s when I was being pressured to go into sport all the way up to today.

[00:02:52] So my first encounter with feeling like I should participate in sport was through my physiotherapist. The very first time my physio sat me down, I would have maybe been seven. Handed me a flyer that would be made on publisher because it was like 1997. It was advertising wheelchair basketball. I've never come across the idea of playing sport in a wheelchair before. My physio explained a few technicalities of participating in that said sport. Firstly, I couldn't participate in my own wheelchair. I had to participate in a manual wheelchair. The ones you push, not the electric ones that I've always been in. I know my identity is so intertwined with my wheelchair and it always has. Even at the age of seven, I was very attached to it and I didn't really know who I was in a different wheelchair. My physio was pretty determined to get me into sport, though, so we had a number of sessions of me trying to learn how to use a manual wheelchair.

[00:04:10] All I can say is, it was a disaster. We did a number of sessions and I really tried hard, but going into a manual chair made me feel like I was more inept. I didn't have the abilities that I did when I was in my electric wheelchair. I'm quite weak on my right side, so using a manual wheelchair really highlighted to me how weak I was on my right side. As a child, I wasn't really aware of my weakness and it wasn't until that I was put in the manual chair that I realised that I could only go towards the lift going down a corridor and I would eventually hit the wall because my right arm wasn't strong enough to keep me straight. I'm super competitive and I don't like to look weak. I know that's probably the wrong word, but I don't want to look weak or not have the opportunity to win something. If I'm going to participate in something, I want to feel like I'm on an even playing field. The idea of participating in a sport. That meant that I was probably the worst one on the pitch, oval or court. Filled me with dread. I'm not comfortable with feeling like the worst one in the room. So from that point on, I've been very stubborn in my position on participating in disability sport, it's always been a very strong No.

A seven year old sitting in a pool
Swimming is only sport that I have ever enjoyed

[00:05:49] In saying that, though people around me have always been very persistent in trying to get me to participate in the sport. I've been trying to understand why that is and a few themes came up in the academic journals that I've been reading. The academic journals that were written in the 90s talk about the importance - by the way, this is for people with physical disabilities only because that's what relates to me. The journal articles in the 90s spoke about the importance of people with disabilities experiencing accomplishment, having the ability to commit to something, giving the opportunity of socialisation with other people with disabilities. Empowering them in their disability, giving them a purpose and a path in life and the possibility to an excellent future (ie, becoming a professional athlete).

[00:06:51] I have to say, these themes are pretty on point with how I feel most people in the 90s approached me getting into sport. For some reason, many people seem to think that if I didn't participate in sport, I wouldn't achieve. Yes, I wasn't that intelligent in high school, I was sort of a plodder. I was pretty much the same in primary school, although, to be honest, I was pulled out so often because I had so many operations, I really don't think I got the proper opportunity that the other kids did while in primary school to excel. Thankfully, my parents didn't push me and they weren't the ones pushing me to sport. Many of the people in my life thought it was a great opportunity for me to socialise with other people with disabilities. This made me feel really insecure in who I was because at home and with my friends and my family, my disability wasn't the most important thing about me. In fact, we barely spoke about it. It wasn't really an issue. It was only a factor of how I got on in life in certain ways. Disability sport for me meant that I was being defined solely by my disability. I could participate in the said sport because of my disability. I don't like being defined by my disability. I didn't at seven and I don't now. I wanted to play with everyone. I didn't like the segregation that disability sport brought.

[00:08:43] I had to go to rehabilitation for my disability for a long period of time, so I met many kids my age with all sorts of different disabilities. To be honest, I didn't click really with any of them. There was no rhyme or reason, really and the fact that people thought that just because we had a disability meant that we had to be friends or we had an increased chance of being friends. It's just the short sightedness that the 90s were. When I looked at academic journals. There hasn't been that much progression, it seems, on the perception with people with disabilities participating in sport. The importance of socialising with other people with disabilities still seems to be a very high attribute to participating in sport if you have a disability. So from the 90s, up until now, social inclusion seems to be the most important factor, that other people attribute to people with disabilities playing sport. And yes, of course, this might be the case for some people, but it sort of infers that playing sport is the only opportunity for people with disabilities to socially participate and feel included. And that's just bullshit, frankly. I have many friends and I don't play sport. And yes, I understand the building of confidence is probably an important factor like it is for many people with or without disabilities playing sport.

A little girl sitting on a pony
The closest thing to a sport I have ever participated in

[00:10:28] Almost half of the studies spoke about the importance of people with disabilities being better accepted by people without disabilities. The way the studies ensured acceptance was through sport, watching fellow students with disabilities play sport or putting kids in wheelchairs and illustrating to them the nuance skill of playing a sport with a disability.

[00:11:01] Australians love sport. People excelling despite of their disability, you know, it's inspirational. I know this is probably biased because I was the one researching, but a few studies confirmed my view. That even Paralympic athletes are still viewed as Paralympic athletes and not just Olympic athletes. Their disability is still the main factor that defines their identity. Let's be honest, most people who are represented in the media and are spokespeople while having a disability, many of them are athletes. Society still values people who are athletes with disabilities above anybody else, because it's what people without disabilities are most comfortable in defining, us as. If that doesn't illustrate to you why I haven't participated in disability sport, I don't know what does. I know probably a lot of you will disagree with me this week, and that's OK. I know that disability sport has been very valuable for many people with disabilities. Discussion and disagreement is what life's about. We're all different but disability sport is not for me.

[00:12:46] I hope you enjoyed my answer as to why I don't participate in disability sport. Probably it's a little bit controversial, but hey, I'm just being honest and just be me. Thanks so much for listening. If you could please write and review the podcast, I'd really appreciate it. Share it with someone that you think might find the podcast interesting. Or better yet, please share me on social media. I would really appreciate it. OK, guys, thanks so much for listening. See you next week.


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