Dear able-bodied men

I apologize.

I am sorry that as a woman with a disability I exceeded your expectation of me. I did not mean to offend you.

I am also sorry that after you (the head of the North West Open Water Swim Association) decided you would not support me with a 33 km swim across Juan de Fuca Strait in 11C water that I did it anyway. I did not mean to achieve something you did not or upset you when I did.

And I am sorry that I asked your friend at the Marathon Swimmers Federation to include my achievement amongst the others. I now know that I require both of your permission and support if I am ever to achieve anything.

I am sorry that someone submitted my name to the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame for my 20+ marathon swims and for the work I have done to help others with disabilities. He likely did not know I did not fit your criteria.

I am also sorry that I have not yet taken you up on your challenge to find another non-disability centric (your words) sporting hall that has more than 4% of its inductees living with disabilities (data based on your letter to me) . I suspect most would not see 4% disability inclusion as a passing grade when we are 25% of the population.  If you don’t mind me suggesting, in the most humblest way, it may not be a good idea to say that you are an able-bodied centric organization. You may find yourself in a bit of a pickle with the Human Rights organizations. Think of it like this, would you ever say you were a white-centric organization? 

And I am sorry that you are so angry at me for asking questions, raising issues and identifying discrepancies, and that you never wish to discuss these matters again. You are right, I should open my eyes. As you suggested in your letter to me, I am ill-informed.

I am sorry that I did not understand that because many of my swims are “first know” that I would not qualify for induction. I was unaware that pioneering was not considered part of the history of marathon swimming or that these swims were not inspiring. That was very presumptuous of me.

I am also sorry I did not realize that the Hall’s selection committee placed more emphasis on the reputation of a body of water rather than the body of water it self. I made the mistake of assuming you were working from facts.

And I am sorry that I did not realize that you would not check or have to check your own website for facts before sending me your letter. 

I am sorry that I misunderstood your definition of International. I assumed you meant it included swimmers from around the world. I did not realize it meant that I had to swim around the world. 

I am also sorry that I did not understand that I would have to complete 10 more epic swims in addition to the 20+ I have already completed. I did not understand the people with disabilities would be required to swim more than those without.

And I am truly sorry I can not afford to $100,000+ it would cost to do the swims required to qualify for consideration for induction into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. I should have tried to earn and save more money. I will be sure to let me friends in the community know that all though they earn far less than able-bodied people, and many are living below the poverty line, you will hold them to the same criteria as people without disabilities as part of how you work to include us in your organization.

Sincerely

Marathon Swimmer, Woman with a Disability

End Notes

The following has been written in response to a letter I received from the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as well has my interactions with SOME of the leaders in the marathon swim community. I recognize that there are many good people in the community who are doing wonderful things. Sadly, in my situation, a few men in a position of power have over shadowed much of that through exclusion by design.

To the able bodied men who stand beside me, thank you. You are a part of an inclusive future. I respect you for stepping up and out and am grateful.

To those who have been honored by the IMSHOF my comments are in no way meant to take away from anything you have achieved. I tip my cap to you in honor of your achievements and thank you for inspiring me to be better every day.

To all girls and women and people living with disabilities, if you have been excluded by design, or belittled or bullied for daring to express you have been excluded, know you are of value and loved. 

If you are being bullied, please reach out to someone in your community or google “bullying + hotlines + your city”. 

21 thoughts on “Dear able-bodied men

  1. Congratulations on your marathon swimming.
    It is such a shame and disgrace how you have been treated.
    All my best wishes for your future, you are one very tough cookie xx

  2. Susan, congratulations on all you have achieved. You are a true inspiration. Amazing letter I’m glad that you have confronted those who have tried to hold you down, it’s only sad that it was ever necessary. Good luck in all you do.

  3. What a heap of tosses. Please let’s make these organisations obsolete and start afresh! Brilliant letter and congrats on all your fabulous achievements x

  4. Your response was so well written: well done for managing to stay so calm when faced with such intransigence! As a keen, disabled, all year sea swimmer, I am relieved to know that no person or organisation can blight my daily pleasure but I stand with with you in your quest for FAIR inclusion for your (far more ambitious) successful swims.
    How can I support you going forward?

  5. Ms. Simmons, Thank you! You are epic amazing and I totally support you in bringing down that male centered, able bodied house – smash that glass! My daughter has MS and your achievements to me – a strong but faint of heart open water swimmer, who has participated in 10K open events – and to others who think I am tough – have no idea of just how tough the Open Water Swim community are in general and certainly don’t have a clue about the toughest among those in this community – people like you. And you, may stand alone, and your achievements should be held in the highest esteem, with recognition for your earned achievements, a deserved place for those, like you, the rare, few who have truly achieved the most in this community, what to many seem to be impossible accomplishments, through sheer strength and determination.

    • Thank you for your kindness. I send my warmth and encouragement to your daughter and hope she is managing well. And to you, bravo on your swimming!

  6. You are so inspiring! Maybe we need a new, more inclusive Hall of Fame organization? The one you’ve been dealing with no longer seems relevant, and clearly doesn’t meet the needs of all people in the sport.

  7. Hi Susan, I am an abled bodied man with a disability who salutes you and your amazing swimming achievements. Overcoming a disability. casting it aside and swimming anyway is where the true rewards lie for me and i pray fr you as well. Well done and I am sorry for those able-bodied poop scoopers who denied you what you have earned.
    Doug in Bend, Or

  8. Beautifully written. You very much capture the realities of people living with disabilities and the fact that so many organizations do not see how they are structurally inaccessible and ableist.

  9. I too have MS. I am in awe of your achievements and applaud you for standing up to bullies who attempt to devalue and not recognise these. More power to you.

  10. The self proclaimed emperors have no clothes. History will judge them accordingly. Their certifications change nothing of what you’ve achieved and have the potential to continue to.

  11. Congratulations on all your achievements but I’m astounded with all the public education such mediocre men are still unable to see past their own pathetic feelings.

    I hope for a world where they are isolated and made to feel small and powerless.

    Once again well done and many congratulations and don’t stop swimming.

    👍😊❤️

  12. I am one of the three individuals called out in Susan’s post. Before all the readers make judgements, please read my five posts (IN THE LAST MONTH ALONE) on the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Facebook page – which identify and promote swimmers with disabilities.

    9 November 2021 – Ashley Cowan Interview: MSHOF have a formal initiative to: Identify and Promote Swimmers/Contributors with Physical Disabilities and Honorees who Assisted Quadruple amputee – marathon swimmer. One of those stories that makes the world a better place

    7 November 2021 – S .Lecat helping 2 swimmers – one a para swimmer across Lake Titicaca

    5 November 2021 “Accessibility vs Inclusivity”: “Fifty-three per cent of kids with a disability don’t have a friend,” said Keith. “And the numbers are likely much higher than that.” Keith thinks that sports can be used to bridge that gap

    1 November 2021 Vicki Keith – Beside The Boat has been playing a pivotal role in raising the bar of Canadian Paralympic Swimming team!!

    31 October 2021 The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF) has a formal initiative to Identify and Promote Swimmers/Contributors with Physical Disabilities and Honorees who Assisted. Below is a great example of a common sense adjustment of marathon swimming rules to assist swimmers with physical disabilities. IMSHOF APPLAUDS THIS APPROACH

    Then – to stress that there was no personal animus – here are 2 posts featuring Susan in a positive light:

    21 June 2020 – Susan Simmons interview: There is something special about our sport allowing swimmers with various disabilities to dream, prepare and succeed. Be inspired !

    5 February 2021 – Spirit Orcas video (with Susan Simmons picture as the post cover)

    • @ Ned Denison. I have read your letter to Susan and your reply on this thread. I am extremely disappointed at the tone of these letters.
      Merely posting some articles promoting or applauding swimmers with disabilities on your Facebook page does not equal inclusivity or a lack of discrimination.
      Whether Susan herself is eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame or not, or whether she meets your criteria is not really what is relevant here.
      What is relevant is actually listening to Susan and other disabled people to work with them to ensure access, diversity and inclusivity and to avoid ableism and (perhaps unintended and unconscious) discrimination.
      Whilst I appreciate organisations set up their constitutions and criteria at the time they are established, in order to improve flourish and move with the times, a continual reappraisal of the structures and criteria are surely necessary.
      Aren’t the principles of equality and human rights something your organisation would wish to ensure you are continually striving to improve?
      Perhaps listening to Susan and the very valid points she makes as a disabled athlete and person, and working with her and other disabled people to make your structures more inclusive, rather than simply dismissing her as an individual would be a more positive route to take?
      I would be interested in your response to the points I raise, but more interested if you would actually respond to the issues Susan as a disabled person has raised.
      Kind regards,
      Felix Vandersluis

    • Mr Denison

      Thank you for re-opening the door and sharing your comments on my blog post. I believe this took a great deal of courage.

      I am sure my post came as a shock to you. In many ways it was to me as well. I did not enjoy writing or posting it. The letter highlights yet another area where people with disabilities face systemic discrimination; there are so many as the world is built for the able-bodied. I knew some would understand what I was trying to communicate, while others would not and would bully me – and they have. I also knew that after posting the letter there would be absolutely no chance of me ever being nominated into IMSHOF, but it is important to me that people understand the barriers to inclusion so they can dismantle them.

      Diversity and inclusion are hard work, but they are needed if we are to live in a world free from discrimination. Moving forward will require a paradigm shift that will disrupt IMSHOFs norms and culture. People will resist as change can be uncomfortable. I ask you to consider however, how uncomfortable, and even painful it is for people living on the outside of inclusion.

      Inclusion is giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance. It is helpful to those with disabilities in the swim community that you are sharing their stories, it is however a long way from inclusion. Inclusion will require shift in your policies.

      As an example, the policy that requires people to swim at least 10 known international epic swims. Each of these swims requires travel and comes at a cost; at a minimum $100,000. This is systemic bias in favour of those who have financial means. Twenty-five percent of people with disabilities are living in poverty with the vast majority being women. Although IMSHOF may not have intended to discriminate against them, it is the end result of your policy.

      There are numerous others who are impacted. Consider that only 2% of the world’s population travelled internationally in 2018. From this, we can assume that close to 98% of the world does not have equal access to the opportunity to travel and there for be recognized for their achievements. The policy also does not consider the risks or impact of traveling on the individual. Have you ever tried to travel with a wheelchair? It would be more equitable to recognize swimmers around the world as opposed to swimming around the world.

      Another example of systemic bias is the use of known ratification bodies. Beyond the obvious, that there is no official list or set criteria for these bodies, leaving it subject to your personal bias, many of them may not be equipped to work with persons with disabilities.

      You have also identified swimming in varied temperatures as a requirement. Heat is a know trigger for 70% of people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Are you suggesting that those who have MS would have to put themselves at risk of an attack if they wanted to be considered?

      To be inclusive, it is important you recognize the person’s circumstance and meet them where they are, not ask them to be like you. Craig Dietz is an incredible open-water swimmer without limbs and one of my personal heroes. He is known for his 10km marathon swim in Lake Memphremagog amongst other swims. Would you require him to swim 10 epic swims around the world to be considered for induction?

      There are many more examples that I and others can provide. It will be a difficult conversation and I respectfully request that you do not shut it down before it has an opportunity to begin. Inclusion is vital to the health of our communities. Beyond the need for fairness, it is needed if we are to live in strong, healthy communities. One study suggested that chronic social exclusion is one of the causes of school shootings that occurred in the US. We should all be doing all we can to work to include rather than exclude, in my humble opinion.

      The modern hero in this is not the man who celebrates himself but rather the man who is willing to give up a seat at the table to include others. I am here should you wish to move forward with the conversation.

      Susan

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