What I Actually Said
Many months ago I received a request for an interview, and I wish I had listened to my gut. My gut said, this magazine is not very professional.
But being the sort of person who roots for the underdog, I brushed my gut aside and spent several hours composing answers to a list of questions they sent me via email. I tried to be direct and succinct, but it was longer than I had intended so I said in my message, “Let me know if you need me to edit it down.”
The reporter sent me this in response:
Thank You so much for getting back to me. If there is any mistakes, I or our editors will fix them. From what I read, it is been a pleasure emailing you. You seem like a fantastic person!If there is anything else I need, I will contact you. I have till the 15th to finish. So, if there is any problem I would email you.
Alarm bells went off in my head. There were grammatical and punctuation errors in his reply and it was repetitive! Hopefully this was just the nature of a hurried email and not a refection of their editorial prowess? I shushed the doubts.
Months went by. It took several emails to figure out when the interview ran, and it quickly became clear that if I wanted to see the interview in its published form I would have to buy a copy of the magazine. So I plunked down $11 and change.
I was appalled by the headline: “Wrong Arm, Right Attitude.” Wrong arm?! I groaned internally. I started to read the four paragraph lead-in to the interview and noticed that they wrote three sentences, and then copied verbatim from my website. Except that they mixed up the paragraphs and added a phrase, effectively confusing the timeline of my career.
And then, as I was about to set the magazine down, feeling grateful that it has a minuscule circulation, my eye caught a phrase at the end of one of my responses: “learning the sport comes as an ease.” What?! That doesn’t sound like me.
In fact, it wasn’t me. They invented three sentences at the end of that response, in which I am supposedly explaining my philosophy for coaching athletes with disabilities. I started at the top of the paragraph and discovered that they re-wrote the whole thing (for unknown reasons) and in doing so, mis-construed the point I was making.
I didn’t want to, but I had to read the rest of the interview.
It’s pretty easy to pick out the places where they edited my words, thanks to tone, sentence structure, and vocabulary. In the places where they heavily edited the interview, they subtly but significantly changed the meanings of many things I said. So, this week, I am re-printing the interview, as I wrote it.
Q: Hi, Kelly! To open up the interview, can you briefly tell ******* magazine a little bit about yourself?I am a two-sport Paralympic medalist and professional athlete. In addition to coaching swimming, I am the founder & director of the ParaSport Institute, which is a research, education & policy think tank where we are trying to answer the question: how do we best develop and identify champions in the US?Q: According to your website, you have a “funny right arm.” Can you please explain the disorder, and how it affects you?I was born with three fingers and a fused elbow. It is what it is, and we didn’t have a lot of conversation about my arm when I was growing up, so I don’t even know what to call it. The funny little arm thing came from my friend Deb Gruen – she was a Paralympic swimmer, now she’s a lawyer in DC. When we were on the National team she’d often say “I love your little arm, it makes me giggle,” and then we’d both laugh. So I started calling it my funny little arm. I’m not sure the real, actual name or diagnosis matters.At this point in my life I don’t really think it affects me. Maybe it does and I don’t see it because I’ve been adapting from before I can remember – you know, I was in my 20s when my mom told me I was naturally right-handed. Until then I thought I was a lefty who happened to be right-footed! I just do things in a way that works for me. And I don’t give it too much thought, at least as far as daily life is concerned. What am I going to do, leave the dishes, tying my shoes, all of that stuff to my husband? The dishes are tempting! But that’s not how I want to live.Q: You rode as a professional cyclist and swam in many Paralympic Games. Which of those two sports do you enjoy the most? In which of those sports did you have the most success?So, just to clarify, I swam in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, and competed as a cyclist in the 2012 London Games.Which do I enjoy most? I don’t know, what kind of candy does a kid like best? I love both sports – all sports, really – for different reasons. Swimming is relaxing – I love that moment when my head goes underwater the the world gets quiet. I can get into a rhythm and kind of space out and think things over, figure out how to deal with challenges, problem solve.Cycling is different, especially since I got hit by a car on a training ride. It tends to be more stressful and I can’t space out because I feel like I need to be vigilant about traffic, but I love going places under my own power, and there’s something really liberating about having the wind in your face and your wind vest flapping behind you like a superhero cape. A lot of cyclists hate the flappy wind vest, but I love it!Q: How long have you been participating in the Paralympic Games?I’m going to rephrase the question – would we ask an Olympian how long they’ve been participating in the Olympic Games? I am a two-time Paralympian. Between swimming and cycling, I was on one National team or another for the better part of a decade. I think a lot of people out there think that anyone with a disability who is involved in elite sport is a Paralympian. But a lot of really great athletes, many National team members even, are not Paralympians – just like a lot of very fast, elite swimmers are not Olympians. It’s extremely, extremely competitive at the top and great, dedicated athletes get left at home every Games. The label “Paralympian” is reserved for a very small subset of athletes who compete in an international event that happens only once every four years.If you asked me how long I’ve been an athlete, I’d say since I was born. Growing up, I was a multi-sport athlete, playing everything my school had to offer – basketball, volleyball and softball. In high school, I swam but I also played basketball. And I dabbled in water polo and rowing. I had Olympic ambitions but turned down an offer to swim in college because I didn’t know about the Paralympics.Q: How many different awards and medals have you achieved? How did you earn them? Which award do you pride yourself in the most, and why?I’ve lost count of the National champion medals, which sounds terrible, probably. The medals sit in a box, and I am seriously considering giving them away at speaking gigs because – this is so cheesy, but true – the real value of what I accomplished aren’t those medals. It took nearly a year of struggling and training through the knowledge that there was no way I could qualify for London for me to find acceptance that there was value to what I was doing outside of winning. I hated the idea of quitting, but it seemed so pointless to put us through all the sacrifice given there was no way I could get selected to the team. It was such a hard time.Once I decided to change my focus, to re-define success, things just kind of happened and I got a last-minute invite to compete. To this day I don’t know exactly what went down behind the scenes – something clearly did, but it wasn’t anything I was aware of, much less had control over. It felt like the universe was trying to teach me something! I get it, focus on what you can control and it’s not the medals!! That said, being on the podium is a nice moment of recognition. I’ve been very lucky.Q: Are swimming and cycling your favorite sports? I ask that because your bio says you are a sports fanatic. What other sports are you interested in?At the start of the year I set out to learn how to play tennis. Just for fun – I played one summer as a kid and loved it. But then I went through the learn-to-row program at the local rowing club and have been going out regularly in a single scull, testing prototype adaptive equipment. I love it! And also, actually, Challenged Athletes Foundation helped me get a mountain bike so that I could ride with a group of injured Veterans. If I could find more gentle fire roads near me I’d probably do a lot of that. No cars!Q: You are the Founder and Director of an organization called “ParaSport Institute.” Can you explain this organization, and why you created it? What is the main goal of ParaSport?I decided to found my own research & policy organization because I wanted to get my PhD in, essentially, Paralympic athlete development policy but didn’t want to have to leave the country. No one’s studying this in the US which is ironic because the US is the only country with an Olympic committee which is privately funded, and so we are probably not going to be able to just cut-and-paste from the policies and programs and incentives and performance measures that other countries use. We need to have a better understanding of how to grow the base of competitive sport in the US in sustainable cost-effective ways, and we need to educate everyone, disarm some of the fear that I think people have around disability and sport.Just for example, a lot of elite able-bodied coaches might say, “I don’t know the first thing about Para swimming, I can’t do that.” But, the thing is, the coaches know the sport! The athlete knows their body. You put those together and communicate, you have ParaSport – and it costs nothing.Q: What does one do in ParaSport? Who can join? What draws different individuals in to want join ParaSport?ParaSport is the term used by most of the English-speaking world to refer to recreational, developmental, and locally or regionally competitive sport programs for people with disabilities. “Para” in the term Paralympic means “along side,” and has no connection to the term paraplegic. One of my goals in founding the Institute is to see more competitive opportunities for athletes with disabilities to compete “along side” their peers but against others with similar functional abilities in that sport.The question I want us to ask everyone, regardless of how their bodies look or work is this: do you want to be active, do you want to compete, do you want to play sport? Yes? Then you’re a ParaSport athlete. Let’s find or create the opportunities and resources you need.Q: If you had to tell anyone one thing, disabled or not disabled, what would that be?Picture whatever it is that you want and literally imagine yourself doing it, going through the process, visualize the steps of getting there. People will tell you it’s impossible – tell them thanks and go back to YOUR vision. Regardless of whether it’s possible or not, are there reasons to keep pursuing your vision anyway?There you go. Sport psychology boiled down to three sentences. Use it!