Why aren’t more people talking about the Paralympic games in Rio? Less than a month ago, I could try to avoid the Olympics and would fail. Now, I barely see anything about some of the sports world’s greatest competition, which is a real shame because, believe it or not, some of the world’s best athletes are performing in these games.
I know that many people don’t bother watching the Paralympics, because they think there’s nothing to see. The WR made at the Paralympics aren’t “really” world records, right? Because, I mean, the 10.92 seconds T11 Class 100m WR are not the 9.58 seconds Usain Bolt ran in 2009. And the T51 record of 21.11 seconds? Probably not even on most people’s radars. But to me, they are impressive.
And you know what? The Games are not only about achievement. They are also about sportsmanship, overcoming challenges, giving one’s best, and the joy of competition. Honestly, I saw so much joy in in the events I’ve seen, and it inspired me to be a better athlete.
While I realize there are some logistic difficulties involved (i.e. over 5000 athletes for the Paralympics alone, with 526 medal events), I don’t understand why the Paralympic games cannot be integrated to happen at the same time and with the same coverage as the Olympic games.
I spent some time yesterday watching the Paralympics, and was reminded that we live in an able-bodied oriented society–or rather, in a a society with subconscious beliefs of what “able-bodied” even means. It struck me alone with the moderation on ZDF, a German TV station. One of the moderators, Matthias Berg, is someone I’ve never seen before in my life, but he was very good at moderating, and he could moderate more than just paralympic events. His appearance is a bit unusual, but I think I would have been able to focus more on what he was saying than how he looked if I could see more of him. The other moderator, Yorck Polus is someone who gets to moderate a lot of sports events. As people without disabilities, we don’t realize that people with disabilities are often forced to live on the fringe, in one way or another. The lack of sponsors and ticket sales for the Paralympics are one example of the ways in which we don’t recognize the accomplishments of these athletes enough. The irony is that the Paralympics are much more interesting to watch than “regular” Olympics, because the events are carried out with different methods and tools than we may be used to. You can watch a 100m sprint for free at any track in the country during the spring. It’s a 100m sprint with a sight-guide, totally in sync, that is really neat to watch.
However, back to that point I dropped a few sentences ago: disabled people are often forced to the boundaries of our society. They are often put in their own classes, own groups, own housing. Of course, this is often because their situations require a certain assistance for living, however, why can’t these be more integrated in society? Why can’t we have more interaction? Probably because society is filled with norms, cultures and understandings that make being disabled “not okay.” There’s a problem, a defect that ruins the “good” of someone normal and/or healthy. Many people have a problem moving beyond the person as his/her disability to the person as a unique individual- unique like each person on this earth.
I know that if asked to write a list of things that define him/her, each person in this world will have more than one items. If social and physical structures in the world made all communities more accessible to everyone, we could have a lot more interaction with people who have otherwise been segregated in some way, and then we would actually learn to interact with them and have more opportunities for intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth.
Now, I want to make one thing clear about my post and my response to the Paralympic games.I’m not saying these athletes are wonderful in spite of their disabilities. I’m not saying they’re wonderful because of their disabilities. I’m saying I respect them as athletes, pushing their bodies to the brinks of what they’re capable of, and that it’s worthy of respect.
One thing one shouldn’t do to a person with a disability/deformity, is tell them how great the person is. Just because these athletes have a disability does not make their sports achievement better. Even if a T11 Class athlete one day breaks Usain Bolt’s record, it doesn’t make breaking the record any better because it was done by a visually challenged person. It would be awesome because a new record would have been made in the T11 Class for 100m…and that happens to be faster than the 100m no class race. It is better, in this case, to realize that the T11 athlete is actually not competing against Bolt anyway, just like I, as a woman, would not be competing against him. Rather, it is that athlete’s challenge to be the best in his/her sport that s/he can. I wish we could respect that, and support the Paralympics more.
As a closing note, a personal fact about myself that may give you some insight into where some of this response is coming from: I was born with a complete bilateral cleft-lip and palate. I didn’t have my first surgery to close the lip until I was two. My palate remained open until I was 10. As far as defects go, it’s pretty small. The only way one could say I was disabled is that I had a speech-defect and trouble eating for most of my youth. Still, I had 13 surgeries to get my face to look the way it does today- and it’s still not “normal.” With social and hormonal standards that favor symmetrical lips and faces, I still have my insecurities when I interact with people, especially when I’m attracted to them and want the feeling to be mutual. However, while I spent most of my childhood having people telling me how awesome I was despite my cleft, I’ve outgrown their attention and my own desire to bask in this attention. I don’t need to be told by a random person that they can barely see it and that I look beautiful, or that they have a cousin, nephew, whatever, who has it too. Just tell me that I look beautiful, thanks.
And watch the Paralympics, polishing your couches, and be inspired. Thanks.
Some athletes to watch: Fatma Omar (Egypt – Powerlifting)
Jaryd Wallace and his teammates (USA- 4 x 100m Relay T42-46)
Walid Ktila (Tunisia- 100m and 200m T34)
Joe Berenyi (USA- cycling)
Daniel Dias (Brazil – 50, 100, 200 ms freestyle, 50 and 100 ms backstroke, 50 and 100 ms butterfly (S5), 50 and 100 ms breaststroke (SB4) and 200 ms individual medley (SM5))
Tatyana McFadden (USA- 100m, 400m, 800m T54) and her sister, Hannah (USA- 100m T54)
as well as a bunch of people on this list and others.