"You don't miss your water, 'til your well run dry." --Otis Redding
It is easy to pay lip service to those who have it worse off. To those who might not be able to afford a health club membership. To those whose physical abilities might make it difficult—or impossible—for them to make it to the pool, or to the top of the slide. To those who live in communities that can't—or won't—invest in parks and recreation.
It's not hard to look at those who have to go without and say, there should be a better way. We should do better.
But it's hard to identify with the struggles these people go through. It's hard when you live in a community that offers myriad opportunities for yourself, your children, your families and your friends to get involved in programs that help you get more fit, that help you have more fun, that help you form relationships with others with similar interests.
It's easy to recognize that something needs to be done to make these opportunities available for everyone. But it's hard to know how difficult it is to go without—especially when you've never had to go without.
I've never had to go without. I mean, sure I have spent a small portion of my life living hand to mouth, but there were always bike trails, hiking trails, friends with cars and more that I could rely on to get me to the (free) recreation I longed for. I've always been able-bodied. Able to grab my bike and cruise to the movies, or to the park to meet friends for a picnic.
And now that I'm older with a family and career of my own, I can lace up my shoes and walk the half-mile to the forest preserve where the birds are now gathering in ever greater numbers. I can take my daughter the mile down the road to the rec center and take delight in watching her learn the basic steps of tap and ballet. I can wait (and wait, and wait) for snow, then strap on my skis and enjoy the beautifully groomed cross-country trails that start up less than a mile from my front door. And if I don't feel like braving the weather, I can drive down to the rec center and walk and jog around the indoor track until my heart is pounding. Then, while stretching after I'm done, I might be lucky enough to meet Joe, Lucy and other friendly neighbors who live in my community and also love to be active.
At least, I could. Until I couldn't.
About three weeks ago, I went to get a glass of water, and something slipped. And for the next three weeks, I couldn't do any of those things. Walking 10 feet was exhausting. Sitting was impossible. I longed to go out and meet up with my birdwatching acquaintances and hear about which new species had arrived and where I could look for them. I missed my time on the track at the gym, turning circles with community members who always had a smile and a hello. I lay around wishing I had the ability to get in the car and drive the mile to my girl's dance class, so I could enjoy watching her incremental improvement, week after week.
In my immobility, and—let's face it—boredom, I realized how hard it must be for those who can't—through physical disability, economic hardship or simply lack of access—enjoy the recreational pursuits that I've always taken for granted.
It made me realize that there's another way of looking at these problems. Take the recent updates to the ADA guidelines, for example. You can look at them as another headache, another line item to squeeze into the budget. But how do you think the disabled man, woman or child who lives down the block looks at them?
I'm asking you to just consider it for a moment. What would your life be like if you had no access to the facilities—whether those are buildings, parks or physical capabilities—of recreation? How do you imagine that feels?
Let's work harder to bring the joy of movement, of recreation, of fun and fitness and more to people who might not even realize what they're missing. Let's not be afraid to trumpet the programs that help get these people from their homes to the doors of our facilities. I'm asking you to engage in, yes, marketing, but more than that, celebrating the importance of this work you do. Because without it, more people will suffer, alone and in silence, perhaps not even knowing that it can be different. And it should be different.
I'd like to hear your stories about how you've reached out into the community to bring the underserved—and the un-served—into your programs and facilities. Tell me your stories by sending an e-mail to Emily@recmanagement.com. I want to celebrate what you do. I don't want anyone to take you for granted.