When living with a disability gets you down, which it often does, what motivates you to keep on trucking? No matter how down you feel, there’s always someone who’s been dealt a much worse hand than yours, or so my dear old dad used to tell me. Here are three of my own personal heroes who literally didn’t let their disabilities get them down at all! In fact, their disabilities were a positive advantage.
Douglas Bader, Alexey Maresyev and Colin “Hoppy” Hodgkinson
These three gents were three of the most distinguished fighter pilots of World War II. "So what", you cry. Well, all of them lost their legs as a result of crash landings yet still went on to rack up amazing records as fighter pilots. And they were decorated for their bravery and heroics too. But what’s really amazing is how they turned what on the face of it were devastating injuries, into a distinct advantage when they were flying in combat. Amazingly, Hodginson actually suffered his injuries whilst flying blindfold during training meant to prepare him for the effects of ‘G’ force!
Second World War fighter pilots had to be highly skilled at manoeuvring their machines through some remarkable airborne acrobatics during dogfights with the enemy. It was a constant challenge to keep out of the enemy’s machine gun sights whilst keeping track of your own. The ‘G’ force generated by the abrupt twists and turns drained the blood from the pilot’s brain in much the same way as riding a rollercoaster does, forcing it out to the extremities. The theory went that pilots without legs would not experience such severe ‘G’ force induced sensations as they had no legs for the blood to be forced into. This disability would in effect give these pilots a distinct advantage over their able-bodied counterparts.
It certainly seems that the theory was correct. Bader downed over 22 German planes in less than two years of combat; Maresyev shot down 11 enemy aircraft in over 86 missions and Hodgkinson, who made fewer flights whilst disabled, still managed to down two enemy planes. Hodgkinson’s story enters comic book realms. In downing one enemy plane, he saved the life of a young officer who went on to take a pivotal role in winning one of the most strategically important battles of the whole war. Surely there’s a Hollywood film in there somewhere!
So, I guess my point is that the next time you're feeling low, perhaps give a thought to how other folks view their disabilities as positives – and go get ‘em!
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.