Monique van der Vorst lost the use of her legs during an ankle surgery in her early teens. Like her Paralympian comrades from around the world, she didn’t let this disability keep her from achieving big things. Van der Vorst took home two silver medals in handcycling at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, and then last year, something strange happened. After she crashed during a training session, she started to get feeling back in her legs. Eventually she was able to walk again, and she recently signed with Rabobank, a top able-bodied women’s cycling team. Van der Vorst has now set her sights on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
As happy as I am for Monique, I find it troubling that athletes with disabilities only get their due when they cross over to compete against athletes without disabilities. Oscar Pistorius, Marla Runyan, Anthony Robles, and Monique van der Vorst are all incredible, top-notch competitors, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The world of disability sport is jam-packed with talent, and for a variety of reasons, most athletes with disabilities will never get the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with their able-bodied counterparts. These athletes deserve publicity, too, but they rarely get it.
Maybe competitors like Monique can help remedy this problem. Whenever she shows that she is as good as any cyclist who never experienced a disability, she makes people question whether she was any less of a competitor when she lacked the use of her legs. Over the long haul, hopefully she’ll help to open up the space for athletes with disabilities to enter the public stage whether or not they compete against those without disabilities.