Guest Column: Salukis are not the only campus heroes

By Gus Bode

What is a hero? The dictionary tells us that a hero is someone admired for achievements and noble qualities or someone that shows great courage. This spring, the attention of the whole campus has been focused on the heroic achievements of Saluki athletes. We recognize their struggles and their ability to compete successfully against other highly motivated college athletes. We know that they have had to work very hard to reach their goals, and that they have had to sacrifice in order to do so.

By this definition, there are other heroes on campus whose achievements are recognized far less often. They, too, spend long hours practicing and honing their skills, and their successes are also based on a great deal of discipline and personal sacrifice. They strive against odds that seem overwhelming, and they persevere even when others think they are attempting the impossible. These are students with disabilities.

These two groups may seem completely different. Saluki athletes are physically gifted and talented. For students who have disabilities, physical functioning may have limits that are clear to everyone who sees them. Other disabilities are not so obvious, but may create equally difficult struggles.


Athletes have to pay attention to form, but some very successful athletes have found unique ways of performing that have made them remarkably successful. Similarly, students with disabilities often have to create their own ways of doing things. Tasks that others learn to perform with great ease may require hours and hours of practice, and the end result may not be perfect if judged by usual standards. Many people with disabilities can do almost everything that others do, but they often have to invent new ways of doing things that suit their own unique set of problems and abilities.

For athletes and students with disabilities alike, other’s perceptions are crucial. A capable athlete who never gets off the bench will never show what he or she can do. Similarly, students with disabilities also face challenges due to others’ assumptions that they are incapable. These assumptions may come from faculty, staff, or from classmates. They may also come from the student’s own family.

For athletes, academic success requires a great deal of self-discipline, since their schedule of practices and travel for competition does not leave much time. For those with disabilities, the same is often true: if completing everyday activities is slow and difficult, less time is available for study. And, of course, depending on the individual’s disability, studying can bring its own set of challenges. Learning disabilities are invisible to outside observers, but they may make academic work much more challenging than it is for the average student.

At times, when a Saluki athlete team is winning big, or an individual Saluki athlete has set a record, those students are surrounded by congratulations and public acknowledgements of their hard work and achievements. Disabled students, in contrast, are rarely recognized in the same way – but those who are often treasure the compliments and acknowledgement of their effort for long periods.

Athletes and disabled students have more in common than meets the eye. Both groups work very hard for what they achieve and face challenges in doing so. Both groups have heroic qualities.