Hi, my name is Sabra Hawkes. I was born with Cerebral Palsy, which affects only my left side. Never heard of it? Cerebral Palsy, commonly referred to as "CP," is a neurological disorder (not a disease) that is non-progressive and non-contagious, and that affects motor function in different parts of the body. CP varies in severity. I was fortunate to be born with one of the most mild forms.
CP aside, I am a runner. Running is my passion, it's part of my identity. I started when I was 12, on the Rockport Middle School Cross Country Team. Each fall, for one hour three days a week, I ran, jumped, and sometimes tripped through the local state park’s two-mile loop.
Now, if you’d been there to watch any of my races, you might wonder how running turned into my passion, because I certainly wasn't the star of the team. I wasn't the fastest, and I definitely wasn't the most graceful runner.
However, I had something the other kids didn't have - drive. Let’s be real here: growing up with Cerebral Palsy made me "different" right out of the gate. I walked around with a noticeable limp, my left hand looks, well, odd. And I won't ever be a professional ballerina (although, I did give it my best shot in kindergarten!) Running was a great way for me to participate in sports and prove to myself that I wasn't all that different than everyone else.
Fast forward twelve years to now: I've been on a number of US Track and Field teams, including the 2008 Paralympic Games team. We traveled internationally, and I was given the opportunity to compete against some of the best in the world. If I showed you my track resume, most people would see it and think it looked rather successful. When I look at it, it seems incomplete. That's where the London 2012 Games come in.
For the past 4 years, immediately following Beijing, I knew that the London Games were a necessity for my own peace of mind. I needed to finish what I hadn't in Beijing, to put it all on the line.
Well, to say I had a "trying" season leading up to US Track and Field Trials on June 29 of this year is an understatement. It wasn't “trying” because of illness or injury, but simply because I wasn't getting the results that I knew I was capable of. I was extremely diligent in my training, and while my times were dropping, I wasn't satisfied. Some call me a perfectionist - this may be true. Anyway, in a nutshell, this season proved to me there is such a thing as trying too hard.
The trials themselves were an undulating wave of emotion for me. Some races went exactly as I knew they could, and others less so. In the end, I did what I could and I couldn't be mad at that.
July 1 was the day the US Track and Field Team announced its nominated athletes for the London Paralympic Games. I’d had it on my calendar for the past year. Everyone stood in that big meeting room, anxiously awaiting their fate. The women’s names were read one after another. As the list grew longer, my name still absent, I had a good idea of what my fate might be. As soon as they started announcing the men’s names, I knew that was it. I had missed the team.
It was an odd feeling. I didn't feel instantly sad. (That came later.) I didn't feel much of anything, actually. I congratulated, hugged, and talked to those who had been nominated and walked off to dinner. I was more relieved than anything that the whole thing was over and I could breathe freely again. It wasn't until a day or so later that it began to set in that London was no longer my reality.
Since coming home and reflecting on the events of the past few weeks, I have spoken to many people who assured me that what I’ve done with my running career is, in fact, enough. They say it is in no way a negative reflection on myself, quite the opposite, actually. Time and time again, people have told me that I don't need to prove myself to anyone. This I know. It just happens that I have an unwavering desire to prove myself to... myself. Sometimes I think I'm Superman.
With the Opening Ceremonies in London only 34 days away as I write this, I feel a sting of sadness that I will not be there to share the experience with my friends. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that cheering on my teammates from home is exactly where I need to be right now. Running isn't going anywhere. It may still even exist in 2016, who knows... ?