By Cana Yao
The girl sits in an unfamiliar room. She’s surrounded by people, but she has never felt more alone. She can feel the sunlight streaming in, yet everything seems so dark, so cold.
It’s not because of the condition which has been stealing away her eyesight, which has already stolen away her hearing. She has lived with that for over twenty years, gotten used to the muted sounds and blurred colors. But she’s not used to this.
She longs for the water, yearns to set records and smash barriers like she used to.
But she can’t do any of this the way the committee wants her to do it: alone.
She turns away from the men in suits who are arguing about her last chance to be a paralympian. Trying to explain their decision to her parents, to her coach, pointing to slideshows that she can barely see.
We can only take essential personnel, they say. There’s nothing we can do, they say. We just don’t have time to arrange everything, they say. We don’t make the rules, it’s not our choice, they say, we’re sorry.
The girl is tired of this. “No, you are not; and yes, you do,” she says, standing up.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” someone asks, more shocked than he should be.
She clears her throat. “No, you are not sorry. Yes, you do make the rules. We’ve talked to Maryland. We’ve talked to Japan. It’s not the government, it’s the committee. You do have a choice.”
“Exactly,” her mom says. “The Paralympics mean the world to her, to us. She’s been training her whole life--you can’t take this away! If you had asked the right people, if only you had cared enough…”
“You did have enough time,” her dad adds. “You’ve had since February to arrange this, but you kept putting it away like it didn’t matter.”
“There’s everything you can do!” her coach roars. “Everything!”
Her mom places a calming hand on the Coach’s shoulder. “He’s right,” whispers the wheelchair basketball player sitting to her left. “You had a chance. You had time. You still have a choice.”
She smiles at the basketball player, then turns back to the men in suits. “Who says that my personal care assistant, my seeing eye, isn’t essential? Who says that his personal care assistant isn’t?” she says, pointing to the basketball player. “If you really care about breaking barriers, if you really care about the spirit of sport…”
A woman in a skirt suit looks at the girl. “But, ma’am, we do. We really do.”
“Then make the right choice, not the easy one. There’s still time,” says a gymnast sitting in a corner. “Prove you care. Do something.”
“I hope and trust that someday, you will do something,” the girl adds. “For her. For him. For me. For all of us. But until that day comes, don’t expect me to swim for Team USA.” And with that, the blind-deaf swimmer picks up her cane and walks out of the room, shakily, but with confidence and conviction.
The basketball player who can’t walk motions with his good hand for his assistant to push his wheelchair out of the room, too. He is followed by the skier who can’t walk and the gymnast who can’t see. They all have their can’ts, but they all have their cans too. And they all have hope for change.
This story is based on the true story of Becca Meyers, a two-time paralympian. The deaf-blind swimmer has had to withdraw from the 2021 Paralympics after the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee banned personal care assistants from the Games.
This story was written as part of the author’s PCA project, which is focused on petitioning the USOPC, because no athlete should have to choose between their health, safety, and comfort, and a hard-earned chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.
This story isn’t over yet. Please check out the PCA project’s website and petition to learn more about Personal Care Assistants and join the PCA project’s fight for change.