This week I’m pleased to turn the microphone over to my friend and colleague Dr. Cheri Blauwet. As a Chief Resident at Spaulding and a 7-Time Paralympic Medalist, Cheri will always be “gold” in my book! She writes to us from the 2012 London Paralympic Games, where she is taking care of elite athletes who were once her peers in competition….
As we travel along the road of life, we are often called back to our “roots” in unexpected ways. This return can elicit a complex cocktail of emotions: nostalgia, excitement, maybe some pride, perhaps a little regret, and eventually – hopefully - contentedness. All these emotions are associated with events that we know were formative to who we are today, and that create the summative experience of our lives. For me, returning to the Paralympic Games in London this month is one such homecoming.
As a wheelchair racer, I competed in three Paralympic Games: Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008. Needless to say, I was around the racing scene for quite some time, and over the years I saw the Paralympic movement evolve before my very eyes. Each of the Games was an entirely different experience, dictated by my own personal life journey as well as my varying performance ability. In Sydney, I was a 20-year-old college student, full of wonder and excitement about the possibility of performing on the world’s stage. That youthful passion, as opposed to experience, brought me four medals: three silver and one bronze. By comparison, Athens 2004 was my peak - I won gold in the Women’s T53 800 meters as well as bronze in the 5000 meters and Marathon. At Beijing in 2008, my perspective was more mature and reflective, mostly because I knew that these Games would be my last opportunity to compete for the USA. In Beijing, I took home a heartbreaking tally of four 4th place finishes, just off the podium each time. All these years later, as I look back on Sydney, Athens and Beijing, I have come to realize that each of the Games represents a special chapter in my life – a chapter that I carry around Spaulding on a day-to-day basis.
In many ways, my return to the Paralympics this month – now as a physician, rather than as an athlete - indicates the start of my life’s next chapter. As anyone who has competed in the Olympics or Paralympics will tell you, most athletes tend to measure their lives in “quads,” the term used to describe each four-year period of time between Games. My personal “quad” since Beijing has involved graduating from medical school, moving from San Francisco to Boston, completing a medical internship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and beginning my residency at Spaulding. I also worked in Uganda for two months, helping to set up an adaptive soccer league for youth with disabilities, and I took a position with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Medical Committee. Somewhere along the way I fell in love with my boyfriend, now fiance, whom I will marry next May. Honestly, even if credentials to compete at the Paralympics came replete with a crystal ball, I don’t think I ever could have predicted the path I would follow post-Beijing!
As my flight touched down in London last week, I was filled with a very warm sense of homecoming. Of course this time, my Paralympic role is significantly different from anything I’ve ever done before. I represent the international community, as opposed to the US, and my credentials reflect this change: they say “B” (representing “IPC Commitee Member”) rather than “A” (representing “Athlete”). As a physician, my mandate is to protect the health and well-being of the athletes – which I will explain in greater detail during my next blog.
Let me close by saying that I am truly thrilled to return to my Paralympic roots, to experience the excitement of the Games once more, and to imagine how my next “quad” will begin. Thank you for sharing this adventure with me, and for joining the international community in celebrating the excitement and symbolism of the Games! I will write again soon! -- Cheri