Monday, March 23, 2009

Butterflies and M*A*S*H

I swam the butterfly in high school. It's not an easy stroke to do under normal circumstances, and on the first day of practice, my coach told me not to bother trying to learn it because it would be too hard with only one hand.

That infuriates me. People making assumptions based solely on differnces. So I did what I always did whenever someone assumed things about me - I set out to prove him wrong.

Our first swim meet was 2 weeks away. I looked him right in the eye and told him that if I could learn the stroke well enough by then, he had to let me race it. Idiot that he was, he agreed. That's how sure he was that I couldn't learn it.

So I went to Nancy, a friend and our lead butterflier, for help. We worked together for one week, whenever both of us were free. And I haunted the pool. Early morning before school. Late at night after everyone was asleep (it was a boarding school). Completely ignored all homework and tests.

One week to the day after my coach and I had made the agreement, I told him to meet me at the pool. I didn't even speak to him, just dove in and started swimming. The look on his face as I finished the hundred meter butterfly made it all worthwhile.

He was floored as he stuttered, "Well, I guess we now have a second butterflier."

Nothing else was said, but he entered me in every swim meet as our second for the butterfly. When I graduated, he came to me and told me that he'd never met anyone as stubborn as me in all his years of teaching.

Being the rude, sarcastic girl I was, I replied, "And you never will again."

Diseases Can Be Overcome As Well

Shelly Mann, 1956 gold medal winner at the Olympics for the 100 meter butterfly, overcame the terrible paralysis of polio to become a world class swimmer. She contracted polio as a child and was left with weakness and semi-paralysis of all her limbs. At 10, her doctor recommended swimming as therapy.

Not only did it work, but she excelled at it, winning medal after medal and breaking records. At age 17, after only swimming for 7 years, she went to Melbourne and won the gold medal for butterfly - the most difficult stroke to swim.

In 1984, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame for her accomplishments.

She should be an inspiration to all of us.

Just Because You Can't See It, Doesn't Mean It's Not There

How many of you grew up watching M*A*S*H? I absolutely loved that show. Cried when it went off the air.

One day in math class in 7th grade, some kids had been picking on me really bad. My teacher told us that he had known Gary Burghoff (Radar O'Reilly) when he was in school.

What would Radar have to do with me getting picked on? Well, he too has differences in his left hand. I could never get my teacher to tell us exactly what those differences are, and all I can find online is that his left hand is "deformed" (I hate that word!), so I really don't know.

What I do know is that he and the shows producers and directors went to a great deal of trouble to hide it on the show. They did very well at it too. I've watched every episode numerous times and never seen it.

I have to say it makes me kind of sad. Gary Burghoff was a wonderful actor and that should have been the criteria by which he was judged. He shouldn't have had to work to appear "normal".

Yes, those were different times. I realize that. People with disabilities were avoided or people would just ignore the disability itself. Some were even placed in institutions back then. Considering all that, I'm amazed he got the part of Radar at all. But it still makes me furious when people are forced to hide their disability because it might make someone else uncomfortable.

Hats off to you, Gary, for making it during a time when it wasn't easy!


  1. I swam all through high school and I can't swim butterfly at all. Having hands does not enable me to do it, why should one hand less prevent you?

    Glad to read about your perseverance. You go girl!

    Wikipedia says this about Gary Burghoff's hand:
    "Burghoff's left hand is withered and misshapen with the fingers being very short—no cause is known about it, though it is presumed to be a birth defect known as a localized dysmelia. In M*A*S*H, he is often seen carrying a clipboard or other object to conceal the defect. The first time this was brought to light was in the mid 1980s in a public broadcasting special about various impairments and how people with them cope in the world."

    It also says this, which I think is much cooler:
    "Episode 24 Season 1 of the M*A*S*H television series titled "Showtime" features Radar playing a solo on the drums. It is a misconception that the sound was dubbed in; it is actually Gary Burghoff's performance."

  2. Great post, Sarah!

    I love the things you decide to share with us. When I told Adam (a fellow swimmer who swam on the swim team and is practically half a fish) that you swam the butterfly, his eyes got big. "Really? WOW! That's the hardest stroke there is!" It's the most efficient, he tells me, but the most tiring. I am so impressed by your accomplishments!

  3. Good God, I can't even make a sad attempt at the butterfly.

    I just love reading this blog. You share stories that I find absolutely awesome. :) You rock. Just sayin'.

  4. Rick - :) Very good point. Thanks for the Wiki info.

    Glam - I'm telling you, Adam and I are long-lost twins.

    Jen - Thanks :)

  5. I'm a huge fan of M*A*S*H. Rick & I watch an episode every single night, in order of course. I've known something was up with Radar's hand, but you're right, they did a good job hiding it. Such a great show.

  6. Shelley was my aunt -- my mother's sister.
    She was a great lady. She is very missed.