With sports on hold due to the worldwide coronavirus crisis, there are conversations surrounding what sports will look like after the pandemic, and how more categories of athletes can be included. One of those conversations concerns disabled athletes, and was the focus of the most recent episode of the Outsports podcast, The Trans Sporter Room.
My co-host Dawn Ennis and I welcomed two of the three co-hosts of the Disabled Girls Who Lift podcast, Marybeth Baluyot and Marcia Darbouze, to discuss issues surrounding inclusivity in sport.
Baluyot is a competitive powerlifter. Darbouze competes in powerlifting and strongman-type competitions. Both women identify as pansexual, and Baluyot also identifies as queer, as does their co-host, Chloe Lansing, who wasn’t able to join the recording of the podcast.
Darbouze and Baluyot spoke at length about how elusive inclusiveness can be for disabled athletes, especially those who don’t fall neatly within lines set by rulemakers who are able-bodied, and governing bodies built around the needs of able-bodied competitors.
“When you are discussing chronic illnesses and neurological disorders there are times where you want to participate we can’t because we aren’t allowed or nobody made the effort to make it more inclusive.” Darbouze, who deals with an autoimmune disorder, said.
“They’ll say you don’t qualify because you have EDS (Ehlers-Danlos syndromes) for example, and it's not officially diagnosed, or is not an ‘official’ disability. That is where we go around in circles,” Baluyot noted. “‘You’re not missing an arm.’ ‘You’re not missing a leg.’ ‘You’re not disabled enough.’ That’s essentially what that means and its unfair.”
Baluyot, who was born without a left hand yet won a state championship in her home state of California as well as a national title, also noted how difficult it is for disabled athletes to work with existing structures. For example, she discussed a 2018 dispute with USA Powerlifting over the use of a adaptive prosthetic lifting hook, which was denied by the governing body. Outsports reached out to USAPL for comment but did not receive a reply as of press time.
In that situation, Baluyot noted the support from and kinship with transgender powerlifter JayCee Cooper, who has been in a well-documented grapple with USAPL over inclusion in competition. “The minute I asked for this accommodation, this tool that could help me pull the deadlift like everybody else, they said ‘no.’” she said. “With JayCee Cooper and so many other folks, I feel like I have this community fighting for our right to compete and I’m thankful for that.”
They both also discussed the landscape within and outside sports in light of the current coronavirus pandemic, as well as the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Darbouze noted that it's time for disabled people to be put at the center of building better policy.
“If we were really serious about making things better than we need the voices who will help us understand how to be better,” Darbouze declared. “I’m tired of the same people sitting in the same rooms saying ‘I can decide’. No! You don’t know, so make a group of people who do know some things and we can get in moving for real.”
Click here to download this week’s episode of The Trans Sporter Room and find out more about Disabled Girls Who Lift. Click the link to check out their podcast, too.
We invite you to subscribe to both podcasts! You’ll find them on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts and Spotify, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts. Plus you can follow The Trans Sporter Room podcast on Facebook and Twitter.