In the last twenty or more years, I have attended and officiated at almost 50 International sports events, Olympics, World and Regional Competitions. etc. In all of that time, I have never left a competition with the same feeling of satisfaction, accomplishment and worthwhile contribution that I felt after the recent Paraplegic Games in Barcelona. When named Chairman of Judges for this competition, I was concerned with the means by which my committee could enforce Archery's somewhat restricted and demanding rules on athletes who were already confronted with varying degrees of major handicap.
I was concerned with how I (we) would address their individual special requirements without showing pity or compromising the rules. The words Disabled, Handicapped, God forbid "Crippled" came into my head. I need not have worried, and the weakness was
within me. Weakness from never taking the time to fully understand, accept, and work with these special people. As athletes (and they were athletes in every sense of the word) they did not want
special considerations other than those associated with basic mobility. They did not want their chairs pushed unless they asked, they did not want an umbrella held over their head while you stood in
the rain. They did not want to be treated differently.
The politics, hype and commercialism that seemed to shroud the recent Olympics and World Championships was "pleasantly missing". All that was left of it in Barcelona was the 5 story high advertisements of "The Dream Team" and "Carl Lewis " looking down and ridiculing the whole Olympic ideal. What was present was 3000 dedicated young people incredibly pleased and proud just to be present, winning a medal would be a fantastic bi-product.. These fine athletes were supported by an almost equal number of Doctors, Physio-Therapists and Team officials, support staff that were for the most part dedicated volunteers, committed to making the lives of these athletes more meaningful.
For a person who had not worked with handicapped athletes previous to this event, the exposure to probably 1500 disabled sportsmen in the dining room every day came as quite a shock. Young men without arms quite capably eating a meal holding a knife and fork with their toes, When one caught my eye, he joked, "this is no problem unless I have to scratch my nose at the same time". Casualties of the terrible thalidomide and comparable drugs with only small stumps where there should have been arms, or legs. Totally blind athletes causally escorted by sighted fellow team members - all coping with their disabilities. No, not only coping , but challenging every able bodied device from a Coke machine to a food tray or trolley, and "winning". All the while laughing and thoroughly enjoying the experience. I know that this was a special short two week period when they were recognised and accepted by the public, and I know that many of them will return to a "simply coping" existence back home. But I hope people like myself will realize the contribution they make not only to sports but everyday life . They display true sportsmanship like it hasn't been seen since the first TV contract was signed. I have already attended two meetings and intend to find and make time to get involved in the disabled sports. Maybe I am a little selfish, it makes me feel good.
I tried to imagine myself with one of the lesser of the handicaps - an amputated arm or leg. Could I cope? Could I face the reality of my incapacity? My first reaction was that I could not. I could see myself becoming a recluse, vegetating in front of a TV, hating everything and everybody. I suppose God or some unknown inner courage might surface and give me the ability to re-enter everyday life. But the prospect was too dismal to even contemplate.
On the first morning I looked with agony around the huge dining hall and could feel them -- no, almost hear them screaming " Why Me". I did not know what to do when a young runner with no arms was wheeled up beside me by a volunteer who placed a tray in front of him and then left! He was not upset, I was. He ate a good meal, not quite like you or I, but laughing and joking all the time with a blind runner across the table. I felt myself staring and was embarrassed when they, with understanding of my discomfort returned my stare. After two weeks that feeling of "difference" somewhat left me and I (they) freely talked of their handicap, how they became that way, and how they worked out means of carrying on.
I intended to write this article about "The Games", but the games were so overshadowed by the athletes that I have sort of lost my original purpose. Spain did a good job of the Olympics, that's for sure, but they really out did themselves for the Paralympics. Almost every building was fully "wheelchair accessible" and the volunteers, tens of thousands of them showed wonderful friendship and help without pity. An example set and a lesson (I hope) learned.
Don Lovo, Victoria Sports Volunteer.
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