Marc Gil and the rare disease day
Ever since I was a young boy, taking part in athletic activities has been an essential part of my life. I played basketball until I was 18 years old. That same year I was diagnosed with a rare illness known as Stargardt disease, a degenerative macular dystrophy that affects the central vision. Consequently, it also affects the identification of shapes, details, and colors, much like photophobia. In just a few short years, I lost a great deal of my vision and this obviously influenced many aspects of my life, even sports were not an exception.
To be honest, it was not easy. For the first time in my life I had developed the perception that I was no longer a “normal” person and that I had become “disabled” along with all of the implications of this label. But, someone once told me that lose can sometimes be a gain. So, I wanted to redefine myself and find my own space to occupy in this new world. In fact, I found it through swimming. Although I had already swum before, I had never done it at such a high level of competition. It was an amazing experience! I felt as though I perfectly belonged in this environment that combined the medicine that I most needed in this moment: a high level of athletic competition, an enormous amount of humanity from my coaches and fellow athletes, and overall a huge dose of normality despite my situation.
After several years of being immersed in the world of Paralympic swimming and achieving several titles, such as Champion of Spain in the category of 50 or 100 breaststroke S13, my brother introduced me to the world of CrossFit.
The challenge was more than ambitious: box jumping, throwing a med ball, or rope climbing. All of this, without even central vision, seemed nearly impossible.
However, I saw it as an opportunity. It obligated me to adapt; I had to center my attention on other senses and perceptions in order to memorize and mechanize new movements that I never thought I would be able to execute. It made me trust in others and in myself. Ultimately, it forced me to overcome the challenge.
It’s possible that many of my fellow BOX mates didn’t have any idea that I was faced with such a struggle, because my illness, like many others, is invisible. Thus, this creates a situation that can sometimes be difficult to manage: What do I do? Do I keep it to myself, try to hide it and look for excuses to get out of situations where I feel limited? Or, do I explain it, normalize it, and try to determine how much it affects me and when I need help? In my case, I decided to first tell my coaches and then tell my Box mates along the way. I would like to take this opportunity to give a big thanks to all of them for the availability, support, and most of all the normality that they have given me!
Beyond my individual athletic goals, I want to focus my efforts on bringing together functional diversity and the CrossFit world, not only for its obvious physical and mental benefits, but as a tool for the inclusion and normalization of the so called “disabled” in our community and society.
Almost a year after embarking on this adventure, when I think about what CrossFit has taught me, there is something that stands out from the rest: the ability to transform limitations (whether they be your personal limitations or those of others) into opportunities is what makes us grow as people.