So where to start off, it's a good question. I am a 40-year-old man from Spokane Washington. First off I wanted to establish, I love softball. I love everything about it from start to finish. Now here comes the tricky part. I have a distinguished list of medical conditions.
Type 1 Diabetes, Diagnosed - 9/1989
Cerebral Palsy. Since birth - 9/1982
End Stage Kidney Disease - 12/2018
I will summarize what each of these conditions are and how they affect my abilities to take the softball field.
Diabetes Type 1-
Diabetes Type 1, also known as juvenile diabetes, is a condition where the pancreas fails to make insulin. With the body not producing any natural insulin, all blood sugar control relies on artificial insulin to control blood glucose throughout the day. And … before anybody says it, yes I can have sugar! In fact, without sugar, let's just say that maintaining life would become more difficult. LOL. Playing softball with diabetes is sometimes like having a kid to take care of, but sadly you're that kid. Sometimes, if it gets bad enough, you can't even take care of yourself and have to rely on others for support.
Cerebral palsy is a condition that impairs the physical abilities of an individual through neurological conditions (brain damage, stroke, Etc.) It is measured on a case-by-case basis and can vary from very mild to very severe. My case is on the mild side.
End Stage Kidney Failure-
End stage kidney failure is a condition where the kidneys have stopped the filtration process for the body on their own. It makes the kidneys unable to filter toxins and remove excess fluid from the body. Treatment for this condition consists of dialysis two to three times a week for 4 hours every session. Another form of treatment of end stage kidney disease is a kidney transplant. This is a process where a donor kidney is placed inside the recipient and takes over the job of the original two kidneys. I am on the active list for donation, though I have not been able to find a living donor yet, so right now it looks like I will have to wait until a kidney becomes available through the transplant network. I'm having to fundraise to cover various transplant and surgery expenses I will have to pay that are not covered by insurance.
So now, back to softball. For the past 10 years I have participated in various softball communities around Spokane. Having all of these conditions can be challenging at times but I try to make the best of the opportunities given to me and deal with the challenges presented. How does diabetes affect me on the field? I am very well controlled, so I am only affected if I overexert myself and use more sugar than I had on board. At that point I have to treat my condition, which in turn could take me off the field. Now when it comes to my cerebral palsy this is where it gets tricky. I have about ⅓ of the strength on the left side of my body compared to my right side. I have been blessed to only have a mild case of this disability, so I am able to carry on a pretty normal life, with just a couple adjustments. But, when playing sports these adjustments feel a bit bigger. I end up having to adapt to play the sport we all love, but I do it. I throw and catch with my right hand. The left one is just there for display, so people don't ask questions when I go up to bat. LOL. When fielding a softball, you have to be right on point. I catch the ball, drop the glove, grab the ball, and throw the ball…. all with one hand. Yes it is an adjustment but over 30 years of playing sports I have become pretty dang good at it. It takes me under 4-5 seconds to get the ball out and off to the next baseman. Now it doesn't always go super smooth, pretty much not even close to always, but every now and then I have a glimmer 😊. It's not the act that matters, it's the effort which counts. How does my end stage kidney failure affect me on the softball field? It has various challenges. It depends on if I've had dialysis the day of the game, how much fluid they pulled, how dehydrated it left me. Dialysis takes about 3/4 of my energy, so I really have to rest up before the game and make sure I am a benefit to my team. Also having the lack of strength makes it exhausting and challenging to play the game that I love.
I have been playing rec league ASA D/E along with some tournaments here and there. Now here comes the not so fun part of all of this. The sport of softball has become very competitive and guys who want to play softball are 50 to 1. Meaning there are 50 guys who want to play for every one that makes the team. What does this mean for me? It means that I have to play my best even when it's not possible. Here are the challenges I face and why I asked the question, Do softball and disabilities mix? The answer is both yes and no. As in life the competitors look for the weakest spot and they try and pursue that. This in turn often points to me, as people see me as the weakest spot. Sometimes, I feel like a token, people have to put the disabled guy on the team. I get it, because I might not be as talented as others, but I still want to be given the chance to try. I feel like I have to contribute to the team more than others, so I can show my worth and how much I want to be a part of the team. Finding people that really care about me is what is important and what I try to find. I tell you what, there have been multiple teams who have said “hey we will have you next season”, and then there's never a call or text. It can be draining and frustrating, but I continue to reach out and find the good people in softball. This has led me to be the “bat guy”. I have an ever growing collection of Unicorn and Monsta bats, and I can’t wait to add some Lolo to the collection.
To sum up, I just want to say yes, the sport of softball and people with disabilities do mix, and they can mix well. Some people say that the Special Olympics is the only place for people with disabilities. While the Special Olympics is an awesome program, sometimes it's not a good fit for individuals like myself. We just have to find a better acceptance for everyone because even the best baseball players only hit 3 out of every 10 at bats.
By: Travis Smith