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Linda Smith Swerdlow. How being a Black Belt defined her and her disability

Linda is truly extraordinary. After a life-altering car accident, in 2013, resulting in a lifelong disability she doggedly refused to accept the low expectations her doctors had for the rest of her life. Linda has designed and developed a cane that helped regain her mobility. If you are interested in Linda's cane click here.

If you're interested in joining Linda's Network click here Linda's email is

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Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast, answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta and I'm your host. I have cerebral palsy and I love to answer your questions. This week I interviewed such a powerhouse of a person. Her name is Linda and she acquired a disability later on in life. I let my followers on Instagram pick what the next episode is and to be honest, you guys couldn't have chosen a better topic this week. What Linda has to share, I found so interesting, and she is truly extraordinary. So without any further ado, let's hand over to my interview with Linda.

Linda [00:01:02] So my name is Linda. I am a woman, inventor, martial artist, and I am a disabled person, and they didn't occur all in that order in the sense that I started doing martial arts at the age of 12, up until the day of my accident, which was in twenty thirteen, I was doing the eight hours of martial arts at two different dojos, 30 minutes a day, qigong and running and teaching and basically doing anything I wanted. And then in twenty thirteen I was in this life altering car accident and had two years of surgeries and procedures and had to relearn how to walk.

Linda [00:01:48] After my hamstring surgery used to complain to my husband every night that my crutches were bankrupting the opportunity my surgeons had given me because they failed to keep my head aligned over my body, and they were forcing me to like, you know, move my body in ways that never been designed for causing more disability, not less. I realised that unless I could figure out how to walk normally again, that I would spend the rest of my life in terrible pain and just have surgery after surgery because I would wear out the joints because I had this terrible walk. It wasn't enough for me to have this rehab plan I had to figure out how to get my foot to strike the ground from heel to toe. And I knew intellectually how to do it, but I couldn't do it physically. So I started building myself a cane that would allow my foot together with the canes foot relearn how to strike the ground from head to toe. And I built myself this cane and then I started writing my patents. And then when I finally did learn how to walk normally again, the same doctors that had told me in the beginning that I had unreasonably unreasonable expectations in regard to my long term prognosis, started calling me a medical marvel. And I would say, you know what, I'm not a medical marvel. I'm just really well trained in what I do, and I understand that had I had a mobility device that had kept my body vertically aligned instead of hunched over or leaned on to that, I would never have become so disabled. And then it got really, really angry thinking, what about all the little kids who spend their lives on these stupid crutches? What about all the people who who become disabled? And then this is the rest of their lives? Like, this is ridiculous. These things are not mobility devices. They should be called disability devices because, yes, they maintain your balance, but at the expense of your mobility, your posture alignment. I realised like this just isn't right. So. After I invented my cane and after I gained the ability to walk normally again. The attitude of my doctors was, well, that's great, you're a medical marvel, and I was like, No.

Peta [00:04:28] It's so true, isn't it? I mean, even I have been put in a box since I was born, I feel like the medical profession do just rely on that diagnosis and determine our capability based on what they've seen before, not taking into account that every person is different with different strengths, abilities and different levels of determination. And we will find what's right for us. A lot of us do fight to make sure that we can live the best life we possibly can. I know I haven't known you for very long, Linda, but I think it's pretty clear that you have two main assets that really helped you. Firstly, your ability to take the emotion out of losing your ability, and secondly, your knowledge and understanding of your body can't be underestimated.

Linda [00:05:24] Well, I also understood, you know. Martial arts is all about filling up OK, like the only way you become a black belt is to fail. Pick yourself up fail again, pick yourself up, learn something, and you keep failing up until you become a black belt. I started I started doing martial arts as a child. I continued as an adult, and it was always a big part of my life. By the time I started really talking about it, I was in my 30s and I had it had shaped my attitude and it had shaped my way of thinking so that when I became disabled and my doctors would say, use the word never, never was to me a four letter word that was quite ugly. They may have MD after their name and they may know their textbooks. But they can't answer the question of what disabled people really need. Now, I did meet some amazing doctors and amazing physicians, and I wouldn't be here today without them. And even the ones that were quite bad, I mean. I saw three different shoulder surgeons after my accident. The second one basically said to me, I don't advise doing surgery because you're never going to get your hand above your head again.

Peta [00:06:53] There's that ugly word again never.

Linda [00:06:56] Yeah, never. You need to be realistic. It'll be easier for you in the long run. So I thanked him for his opinion and I got up to leave and he kept saying, you need to be realistic. It will be easier. And the third time he said it, something snapped inside of me. And I turned and I very quietly and politely said, I have no intention of being in the top five percent. And he said, good. I said yes. With the help of the right surgeon, I will be in the top one percent for any age. A year to the day of my surgery, I had one hundred percent of my range, former range and mobility and I had redeveloped muscle in my arm. I think that too many disabled people hear the word never and they stop. You know, terrible life altering injuries do define who you are, whether you like, like them to or not. But what they can't do is define who you'll be. Only you get to do that. Your doctor doesn't get to do that. Your mother doesn't get to do that. Your spouse doesn't get to do that. You get to do that. So if you decide to stop. That's your choice because of who you are, right, but you should never stop or not try because somebody tells you not to.

Peta [00:08:12] And I completely agree with you, the word never is not a good word, and I think it just eliminates all hope. And when there's no hope, you're not going to achieve and be your best self. Passion is really important, particularly for people who have a disability, because we're so used to people saying, you can't do this, you can't do that. And it's very clear that you're passionate about your cane to make sure mobility is improved for people with disabilities, which leads me on to my next question, because you found my podcast. Ask me the most brillant question. I just wanted to ask, how did you find the podcast and what motivated you to ask me the question?

Linda [00:08:54] So my question to you, if a mobility device court forces you to misalign and move your body in ways it was never designed for, to maintain balance, causing you to become more disabled, not less disabled, should it be called a mobility device or disability device? I really believe that being first of all, being physically disabled is hard work and it is difficult. Disabled people they have to work so much harder just to do anything. There's so much more accomplished because when you are disabled, just to do the things that people who are not disabled do and take for granted and can do easily, like jumping up and running across the room or jumping out of bed and getting dressed and getting out of the house. That requires like no energy for them. Those things requires so much thought and so much energy and so much attention that by the time you get things done, you're exhausted. I think that disabled people scare the hell out of people who are not who are not disabled, so the attitude and even a lot of physicians is could you please go over there in the corner and leave us alone? There's this attitude of once you're disabled, it's like, hey, it's all downhill anyway, so what does it matter

Peta [00:10:22] You're either elderly and about to die or your life devastated to begin with.

Linda [00:10:26] Yeah, I think that there is this once you become disabled or if you're born disabled, it's not about how do we get you the best mobility or how do we get you to to enjoy your life in a way that has less pain and the attitude of life towards disabled people and the realisation that just what disabled people have to deal with. And the lack of appreciation I found like astonishing. When I listen to your podcast with your mum, I just. Oh, my God, I told you, one of my neighbours is has a child who, you know, has some pretty severe physical challenges and, you know, she would say to me, look, I love you. I know you love my son, but you don't understand what it's like for me. You know, I worry about every decision I make and I worry, am I doing the right thing? And when I push my son and my you know, when she heard your mum's podcast, it was like. Because I heard I listened to it and then I went over it like, you got to hear this, and she goes, No, I'm busy, I. No, no, no, you got to hear this. And she was like, no, no, I got ya. Got I said, I am not stopping until you hear this. And she was like, fine. And she heard it. And her face the joy on her face. And she was like, you don't know what that does for me to know that someone raised a child to be the best they can be. She goes, I worry so much every day. Am I making the right decision? She goes, You don't understand what it's like. I said, Oh, stop saying that to me. And she goes, No, you don't understand. Like when you push your kids and they fall down, like not literally but figuratively. Like when I heard what your mum did when she took you down to that ward, that cancer ward and how it changed your life. And I just thought, like might my immediate reaction was like, first I wanted to wrap my arms around you and then I wanted to wrap my arms around your mum because the bravery and the courage that it took to do that, it was like, OK,

Peta [00:12:52] You've also created Linda's network, which is a network of people who are are involved in the disability industry. Can you tell the audience what you're trying to achieve with your network?

Linda [00:13:06] I want disabled people, disability advocates, that new products and services and ideas and podcasts and blogs for disabled people or their families or, you know, like what it's like to have a disabled child or a spouse or their stories. And they can reach me at My network, though, is something I'm very passionate about because I really believe that not just the standards for mobility devices that need to be raised, but also that people need to start. Being more inclusive and need to change their perceptions of disabled people, that they need to stop being afraid and start. Going up and talking to them,

Peta [00:14:01] I will put your email in, though, in the description of this episode. Thank you so much for your time, Linda. Before we go, I just have one more question to finish. Is there any wisdom or guidance sitting here today that you wish you could tell your past self right after your accident?

Linda [00:14:19] Yes, so. I assumed that the doctors were doing the best for me, but I quickly realised that the attitude was, go away over there and leave us alone. Had I known that from the get go. I would not have had to suffer so much because I would have picked up on it quicker and I wouldn't it wouldn't have taken me a few months to go from doctor one to doctor two, to doctor three. I would have picked up on it after the first appointment and I would have said, OK, this is not for me. I think when you are disabled or when you are badly injured. It doesn't matter how good of a reputation that doctor has, unless. Somebody says to you, this is the only surgeon who does that surgery. Then it doesn't matter what their temperament is, if that's the only surgeon that can do it, then fine. But if you as an injured or disabled person. Do not have a a rapport or you feel that that person doesn't get you or is hearing you, you need to move on.

Peta [00:15:41] Use your intuition and your gut feeling and be guided by yourself.

Linda [00:15:45] Yes. So as my late, great Russian grandfather taught me. You think from three places, your head, your heart and your gut. Your head will lie to you because it doesn't like to be wrong, your heart also will lie to you because like your head, it doesn't like to be wrong. Your gut, it don't care. It's not going to lie to you. It doesn't care how many times you have to start over, what you have to do. It's just going to tell you the truth, whether you like it or not. Follow your gut.

Peta [00:16:13] We've been talking for two hours. Thank you so much for all your time. I fully like so appreciative. Thank you so much.

Linda [00:16:23] Take care, sweetie. All right. Bye.

Peta [00:16:27] Well, I certainly love that chat. I hope he did, too. If you did, can I encourage you to leave a rating and review on whatever platform you're listening on? Better yet, share it on social media or share with a friend. Thank you so much. Until next week bye.


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