Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Getting creative: if I were an Olympian

Arthritis Care (a fantastic support organisation! I may have mentioned that...) run an annual creative writing competition for those with arthritis.  This recognises the therapeutic potential of creative writing - and I tell you what, it works!

Now I think I can honestly say that I have not done any creative writing since I was at secondary school, and at first I dismissed the idea of entering because I didn't think it was my sort of thing.  But for some reason it kept popping back into my mind.  I had very recently begun to write this blog, and I suppose the bug had got me.

For a couple of weeks I turned the theme over in my mind - 'If I Were An Olympian'... I wanted to write something that acknowledged my condition and related directly to my experience of living with inflammatory arthritis, rather than a purely fictional and imagined piece, but I needed to find a natural connection with the olympic theme.  So I did some reading on the history and ideals of the Olympic movement, and as I read Deborah J Hunter's article Olympism for the 21st Century: New Life to a Timeless Philosophy, inspiration struck.  This was not just about sporting achievement and the body in its optimum state, it was about embracing life, about having faith in yourself, about our recognising our commonality as human beings.  But the idea that interested me most was that olympism is about the relationship between body and spirit.  Over the course of this year, I have invested a lot of thought and effort in re-establishing a postive relationship with my body, understanding it, respecting it and finding ways to work with it.  By that token, I *am* an olympian, and that is what I wrote about.

When I submitted my entry, I promised a few people that I would share it here once the judging process was finished, so here it is:

If I were an Olympian

Olympism is a doctrine of the fraternity between the body and the soul.” - Pierre de Coubertin

I sit on the floor in the hall, my eyes closed. I feel the weight of my legs sinking into the floor, and am deeply grateful for its unerring support along the whole of their length. I feel the burning in my toes and the bruising in my ankles, the strange weakness in my knees, and the sharper pain in my hips. My hands, resting in my lap, are almost one with my thighs, my swollen fingers throbbing. The heaviness of my shoulders and arms compresses my spine and my guts.

As I cycled, I had been focussed on that final climb. Saving energy by holding a steady pace on the flat, keeping my rhythm, keeping going, breathe and push, breathe and push. Rounding the corner and seeing the road rise gently in front of me, gearing down, gearing down, just keeping going. I could barely feel my legs. I have no idea how they kept moving. But I'd done it. I'd reached the top of the incline. This was officially a good day. And as the road levelled and the resistance dropped, I felt like the puppet cyclist whose flaccid legs move only because they are fixed to the pedals of his machine.

I inhale deeply, feeling my lungs swell and the release of tension as I breathe out. I search for the feeling of lightness, of poise. I take my mind and my body back to a time when I danced. My shoulders settle, my spine and neck extend. I raise my chin and open my eyes.

From my spot in the hall, at the junction of all the rooms in the flat, I can survey all the chaos. The thick layer of dust at the edges of the carpet, following the curve of the pile as it meets the skirting board. The scatter of shoes, bags and found objects in the hall - a leaf, some pebbles (there are always pebbles these days), a two pence piece, one of the red rubber bands that the postman drops. Looking down the hall to the living room, I see scraps of paper, coloured pencils, the sprinkling of cornflakes and peas under the dining table. And unifying the whole, a liberal top-dressing of lego bricks, cast off socks, soft toys, and story books. I long to restore a degree of order, but at this moment I cannot will my body to rise from this spot.

But then, I feel warm arms wrap around my neck, a soft cheek pressed against mine, and the breath on my face of a small voice saying, 'Mummy, can you be a horsey?'