Since my Go Team Canada! post, I’ve been toying with the idea that athletes and people dealing with chronic illness face similar challenges. The idea has been rolling around in the back of my head for a couple of months now, but didn’t really start to flesh itself out until I re-read Chris Crutcher’s Stotan! the other day.
Stotan is a term invented by Australian coach Perry Cerutty that combines the ideals of stoicism and the Spartans. Stoics embraced wisdom, justice, courage and temperance, believing these virtues would help them deal with any destructive emotions.
The Spartans were a Greek army who prided themselves on having values of honour, courage and physical strength. They fought to protect their country at all costs, even death, and trained themselves to be powerful warriors through rigorous physical exercise. (If you’d like to know more about the Spartans, I’d recommend reading Gates of Fire by Steven Pressman.)
Both ideals are about conquering yourself, emotionally and physically; which is what athletes do for a living. Not only does an athlete have to be on top of their physical game, but they also see sports psychologists to help them keep on top of their mental game so their mind doesn’t hinder them from competing or winning.
Likewise, there are differences and similarities between the ideals of stoicism and the Spartans and dealing with a chronic illness. Differences include a focus on the body’s disability as opposed to ability. Also, athletic achievement in the socially acceptable sense is often absent. Death in the instance of illness is not for a greater cause.
But they are simillar in their battle to push past pain and explore and surpass the body’s limitations. And, in the cases of life-threatening or terminal illness, Spartans and people dealing with chronic illness share having to face premature death.
Being a Stotan is about accepting life and working through pain. It is also about being authentic, not about pretending life is easy or painless, but going on in spite of it.
In Crutcher’s book Stotan!, the term is used by swim coach Max Il Song to spur his swim team on to greater heights of athletic achievement. Max introduces Stotan Week, a week where the swim team works out every day from 8 am to 12 pm trying to push their bodies beyond their physical limitations. As the week evolves, the emotional component comes into play, with the members of the swim team growing closer as they exchange personal stories of Stotanism.
While the focus of being a Stotan is on physical ability and achievement, people dealing with chronic illness can be Stotans too. A prime, real life example is Canadian Terry Fox. Faced with cancer and the loss of his leg, he still strove to conquer his physical limitations by attempting to run across Canada. His spirit, endurance, and desire to help others are the essence of Stotanism.
I might not be able to play any type of sport, but I certainly strive to push my body beyond its limitations. I have endured two transplants and multiple surgeries, treatments and side effects to explore new levels of pain. Living my life means accepting my chronic illness and trying to work with it instead of against it.
The challenge with a chronic illness is personal. For me, it’s about seeing what I can make it through, what else my body can withstand. Not giving up in the face of illness is honourable to me; I may not be fighting in a war or competing against others for medals but my perseverance keeps me alive. Deep down I know one day I will face death again, most likely prematurely, but death no longer means defeat. I have proven myself. I am a Stotan.