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IEET > Life > Enablement > Interns > Kristi Scott

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Bionic Athletes stepping out of the debate and in to action

Kristi Scott
By Kristi Scott
Women's Bioethics Project

Posted: May 15, 2008

I’ve been fascinated with the growth in public awareness recently regarding bionic athletes. It’s very interesting to watch something go from fringe and then mainstream. Almost a year ago, an article by Jamais Casico made me take a real look at what it is to be bionic when he talked about his cochlear implant The Accidental Cyborg. Since then, I’ve had a heightened awareness and intrigue for the topic.

Last month my husband’s ESPN came in, I am admittedly not a reader of this particular magazine, but the cover was beautiful. It had bionic Little Leaguer Anthony Burruto on the cover preparing for the pitch and the debate: Bionic Athletes Is Baseball Ready for This Guy? Are You? I had to read it immediately and highlight profusely the interesting comments, while my husband watched and let it slide that I had both read and defamed his magazine before he had even cracked the issue.

The comments inside were intriguing: “...he [Hugh Herr] doesn’t want his human legs back because soon they’ll be archaic”, “Technology…is quickly outpacing evolution, and few know how to respond”, “Others will fret that some athletes might cut off a limb to gain a prosthetic advantage.” This last quote has been a debate between a close friend and I for months now. I think this is a probability in the future, people are very competitive and those who were not born to compete may pay to be able to do so at any cost. She, only the other hand, is appalled at the idea, she is very open-minded about things, but this one crosses her line of what people would subject themselves to. The difference in opinions is understandable, we come from different experience and backgrounds, she had a mother who had to have her legs amputated for medical reasons and saw firsthand what life is like without limbs. Me I only know from what I read and imagine.  We therefore amicably agree to disagree.

My other favorite quote however, and the one I saw on American Gladiators this week, was, “Shed a tear for the ‘disabled’ today. Tomorrow they might pity you.” I wish I would’ve written this. I thought of it Monday evening when I was watching American Gladiators. This is a requirement in my home, my son is enamored with the Gladiators as any almost 9 year old should be. They showed the next competitors and who did they have…a leg amputee…a bionic athlete, John Siciliano.

My first thoughts were good for him, and my second was good for NBC or whoever in the company selected him to compete. The show, with it’s overly muscular Gladitors, typically has competitors that are also overly muscular and look as if they’re training for, well, to take on a Gladiator. This guy, however, was different. He wasn’t overly muscular, he was a Para-Olympian Gold Medalist, he had endurance and a great determination took to take them all on. I watched and rooted for him. He didn’t win, but it wasn’t without a fight. The last challenge was tough and I must be honest, it was a bit sad and disheartening. No matter what his determination was, his leg was not outfitted for the Eliminator. The water challenge made the leg wet, the leg was the J-shaped Flex Foot version not good for ropes, tight-rope walking or going down the pipe, also not good with the wet leg. When it came to the end, he fought hard while the crowd cheered, he finished with pride.

Honesty again, this made me tear up, seeing him and knowing that he won’t be the first, hoping others out there built like a Gladiator will want to compete also, as an equal to the Gladiators and to show up the first bionic competitor. Except the next time, they will be outfitted with prosthetics to take on the ropes, water, and the evil travelator. Bionic athletes are not going away any time soon,and as was mentioned in ESPN magazine, “Thousands of vets will return to the U.S. without limbs, and they will want the best replacements…and those vets will take their prosthetics to the blacktop and the field. Disabled athletes will get only more competitive.”

So I say, good luck to the next competitor and welcome to the mainstream. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of you in the future and I hope that we will all benefit from your determination and continual drive for best technologies.

Kristi Scott M.A. is an IEET Affiliate Scholar. Her work centers on the way popular culture presents issues of identity, body modification, cosmetic surgery, and emerging technologies. She has been a freelance writer since 2003 writing for a variety of magazines over the years, most recently as a writer and copy-editor for h+ magazine.
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