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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 August, 2003, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
I am not disabled

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

The BBC radio newsroom team before the London Triathlon
The BBC radio newsroom team before the London Triathlon
BBC producer Stuart Hughes lost part of his right leg after stepping on a landmine in northern Iraq.

Stuart, 31, has returned to Cardiff, where has been fitted with an artificial leg.

In part 12 of his weekly BBC News Online diary, Stuart charts his recovery.

I am not disabled - and that's my final word on the subject.

I hadn't given the whole question of disability much thought until I read a comment about my personal weblog on another website.

The site described me as a "newly disabled person."

I found myself becoming unexpectedly angry.

It wasn't that I felt embarrassed or ashamed at losing my leg.

It was rather that the phrase seemed to reduce all my hopes and ambitions to a single word - "disabled" - with the implication that I was now somehow disadvantaged, handicapped, incapacitated.

It seems that the excuse "I can't do a triathlon, I've only got one foot" just won't wash

Where, I wondered, does the definition of "disabled" begin and end?

Is someone who wears glasses disabled? What about someone with a speech impediment, epilepsy or asthma?

Surely we're all "disabled" to some degree, even though my artificial leg is more noticeable than a set of contact lenses.

I'm hoping to visit Cambodia later this year to see for myself the work being carried out by the Mines Advisory Group.

Injury toll

It is estimated there are up to 9 million mines buried in Cambodia - one for every person in the country.

Up to 45,000 Cambodians have lost limbs because of landmines and the number is growing all the time.

It was from an article about a Cambodian landmine victim that I found the most eloquent explanation of what it means to lose a limb.

Pruen was 10 years old when he stepped on a mine while playing in his village.

Like me, he lost his leg below the knee.

"We are not 'disabled,'" Pruen insists, "we are very able to do anything.

American triathlete Paul Martin
American triathlete Paul Martin is an amputee

"Our minds are healthy, we are just missing a part of a limb, not part of a brain.

"We strive everyday to prove this to people.

"The limitations are in your mind."

Inspired by Pruen's words, I went to London's Docklands this week to cheer on a group of friends and colleagues who were competing in the London Triathlon to raise money for the Mines Advisory Group.

I made a point of looking out for any amputees taking part in the event.

I was disappointed, but not altogether surprised, not to see any.

Amputees, I assumed, don't do triathlons.

I was wrong.

A quick search of the internet turned up athletes like Paul Martin from Massachusetts, USA.

He lost his left leg below the knee in a car accident in 1992.

Since then he has completed dozens of triathlons.

Not only that, he has also competed in a number of Ironman events - gruelling races involving a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and topped off by a marathon run.

Paul Martin often completes the course ahead of most "able bodied" triathletes.

It seems, then, that the excuse "I can't do a triathlon┐I've only got one foot" just won't wash.

The London Triathlon this time next year?


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