By Daniel J. Vance


  Eight-time Boston Marathon winner Jean Driscoll was born with spina bifida, the nation's most frequently occurring permanently disabling birth defect. Until her 2000 retirement, she was a most amazing wheelchair racer. Recently, she shared with me the bad and good of living with a disability.

  Like most persons with a disability, she seemingly always has to explain her condition to the curious. "If a young child asks why I'm in a wheelchair, I usually say that my legs aren't as strong as theirs," she said. "For older children and adults, I say that my spine didn't form properly, leaving my spinal cord unprotected while I was growing inside my mother. Because I had spinal cord damage, my brain hasn't been able to get all its messages to my lower body."

  Until a few years ago Jean struggled with having urinary tract infections. From ages 7-33 she was on a daily "maintenance" antibiotic. To combat infection she drinks lots of water and has learned to recognize symptoms early on to avoid serious kidney problems.

  Having a disability has its plus side, too. "Through spina bifida I have gained an ability to focus," she said. "As a child I used to focus very intently while walking so I wouldn't fall. Years later, my well-developed ability to focus enabled me to train for marathons and set the world record in the event."

  One year in high school Driscoll had five hip surgeries. While recovering she had to spend most of the time home alone, without a wireless telephone or TV remote control. Years later, she said, that ability to handle boredom "came in handy when I was out on 25-mile workouts, pushing alone on long prairie roads lined by corn and soybean fields."

  Thirdly, she learned patience from biding time before appointments in numerous doctors' offices. She said that if not pressed for time, she is great at waiting.

  Primarily through using a wheelchair she has developed some rock-hard muscles. "I have incredible upper body strength," she said. "What my legs lack in strength, my upper body has gained. My maximum bench press is 210 pounds at a body weight of 110."

  In fact, a compelling argument could be made that her disability has been a major reason for her success.

  Learn more at www.jeandriscoll.com or try the Spina Bifida Association of America website at www.sbaa.org.

  [Contact Mr. Vance with questions through www.danieljvance.com]