Disabled and empowered -- Why I'm championing strong black female athletes
In July and August, espnW's weekly essay series will focus on body image.
When I was younger, I used to have the same recurring daydream in gym class.
If we were playing softball, I would dream I hit the ball and sprinted to home plate because I deserve to be there, not because my classmates let me slide -- like the puck that glided past the goalie and into the net. I won the game, and everything faded away as a single tear rolled down my cheek -- the way athletes cry after a championship win in the movies.
Me, midrun, a smile on my face, because I couldn't believe I was quickly moving.
I have a milder form of cerebral palsy. I walk with a limp. I had given up on the idea of running after surgeries on the right side of my body left me too afraid to relearn how to run.
These reveries left me waiting for a "special talent," which I assumed all disabled kids had, to make up for their disability.
I'm a terrible singer, so I figured I'd find a hidden gift in a sport we played in physical education class.
I never did, and I yearn for representation of people of color with disabilities in sports. So until the work that disabled black women do is recognized, I will continue to champion and celebrate the able-bodied black women.
I cried when I learned that Misty Copeland would be American Ballet's first black female principal dancer. My weeping was not because I had dreams of being a ballet dancer -- although I would twirl from the kitchen table to the fridge in my socks, convinced I could pirouette with the best of ballerinas.
I was emotional because ballet, at its core, is both raw and feminine, two things that black women are often not allowed to be.
Then come gymnasts Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez. Not only did they help secure a team gold medal, but Biles is the new Olympic all-around champion and is leaving Rio with five medals.
At 24, I'm older than they are, but I feel a sense of pride when I see them swinging on uneven bars or sticking dismounts on vaults.
I hold my breath with them as they await their scores and cheer when I feel they received the ones they deserved.
The Olympics are the ultimate dream.
Our bodies are in no way identical, and we are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Though I've been told that the way my smile spreads across my face during moments of triumph is similar to Gabby's and Simone's happy grins.
They all have dealt with criticism, from some people saying Gabby isn't patriotic, to a dance instructor telling a 13-year-old Copeland she was too old to be a ballerina.
I haven't had the same amount of vitriol thrown at me, but I was told by a teacher in high school that I would never make it as a successful journalist. I've had my writing abilities questioned and racist comments sent to me frequently online. Like them, I feel I have persevered.
For Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's Lenny Letter, I wrote about one of my biggest triumphs so far, putting my hair up into a ponytail, unassisted. This might not be a medaling event at the Olympics, but it made me feel as proud and as wonderful as I imagine Misty, Laurie, Gabby and Simone feel with each of their completed goals.
There is an expectation for black women in sports to be better than the best, show no emotion and maintain a level of superhuman strength.
When Copeland steps out on the stage next month at the Opera de Paris to star in "The Sleeping Beauty," I hope she reminds herself of all the work she's put in to get there.
Simply seeing all of these women succeed in their fields is something akin to witnessing a miracle that isn't really a miracle but rather a result of fate putting the world in the right order.
Representation matters, and even as I live in a disabled body that was never lucky enough to be good at any sport, when I see these women in commercials and on TV screens, I am reminded of all of the things I can achieve with hard work and talent. These athletes prove that every black body is beautiful, even the ones that don't look like theirs.
The bodies of people with disabilities, the tall, thick and tired bodies that could only ever dream of doing what they do, the short and chubby bodies. These black women make every black body feel special and worthy.
Keah Brown work has appeared in Lenny Letter, Catapult, The Establishment and Femsplain among other publications. She loves TV, good music and cheesecake. Follow her @Keah_Maria