Thursday, September 6th, 2012
Rowing, Sailing, Swimming, Cycling: Sounds like sports you’d find at the Olympics, right? They are. But they’re also part of the Paralympic Games 2012, happening in London until September 9. Also included: Wheelchair Basketball, Sitting Volleyball and Wheelchair Fencing. A record 4200 athletes from 166 countries are competing at the Paralympics. Some are in wheelchairs, some are visually-impaired, some are missing limbs, some are intellectually disabled, but they all have one thing in common: outstanding athletic ability. Spend some time watching YouTube’s ParalympicSportTV channel and that’s easy to see.
I’ve watched the games on YouTube because NBC’s barely covered them, a move that disturbed many disabled rights groups along with those of us who wanted to see the Paralympic Games on TV, same as we were excited to see the Olympics. NBC’s screening four one-hour highlight programs along with a 90-minute roundup, a mere five-and-a-half hours of coverage on NBC Sports Network (not part of basic cable subscription)—far behind other competing countries. Meanwhile, the United States has the third largest team, behind China and Britain.
This is an improvement over the single 90-minute program offered during the last summer Paralympics, in Beijing. But it’s not enough. “Some people feel that North America leads on everything, and on this, they don’t. It’s about time they caught up,” said Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee.
The problem seems obvious, to me: Too many people think “disability” instead of “ability” when they think Paralympics. Perhaps they view these competitors as “lesser” athletes. Perhaps they don’t consider them to be in the same category as “regular” Olympians, a prejudice that reared its head when Oscar Pistorius became the first amputee to compete in track and field at the London Olympics. One sports writer dubbed the decision to let Pistorius, who runs on carbon prostheses, compete as setting a “regrettable precedent.”
It’s true in sports, and true in life in general: People with disabilities often aren’t seen as the equals of other people because of their disabilities. As the mom of a child with cerebral palsy, this pains me to hear. Perhaps Max may not be an athlete in this lifetime, but he has plenty of abilities—ones people often can’t see, or understand.
It’s time we stopped thinking so single-mindedly about the wide variety of physical and intellectual abilities in our world—and what it means to be a world-class athlete. Whether you rely on upper-body strength or lower-body strength to compete in a sport, you’re still competing. Whether you shoot hoops from a wheelchair and score or you shoot standing up and score, you’ve still scored. Whether you win a race running on carbon-fiber blades or your legs, you’ve still won.
Check out the much-discussed men’s 200M—incredible athletes, all of them, with abilities most of us will never have. Max was awed, as was our entire family.
U.S. table tennis players Pam Fontaine and Tara Profitt competed in the London Paralympics. Both were successful teen athletes when they became disabled; Pam had a diving accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down, and Tara was in a car accident that sent her flying through the windshield and put her in a wheelchair, too. They competed back in the 1984 Paralympic Games, and returned this year. As Fontaine says, “I’ve never really thought of myself as an inspiration—I just feel I am blessed to be an athlete. I’ve been an athlete my entire life.”
You can bet that every athlete competing in the Paralympic Games sees themselves as a true athlete. I hope America can start seeing Paralympians that way, too.
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Photo: Flickr/Ben RodfordAdd a Comment