There are times in our lives when we are impacted by something. Well, one of those moments for me was when I attended the Paralympics on September 6th in London. It was one thing to watch the various events on television and it was another to sit in person and cheer these men and women on. It was both sobering and moving to see the Paralympic athletes compete in athletics, track and field. Once you get past feeling sorry for them because of their disability, you begin to admire their physical and emotional strength and there’s only room for pride in your heart. I could not help but think as well of all of the amazing parents, families, friends, and coaches who have supported these athletes. By now you are all familiar with the South African blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, who also ran in the Olympics. I loved hearing what his mother would say to him and his brother growing up, “Carl put on your shoes, Oscar you put on your prosthetic legs”. Pistorius grew up not really thinking he had a disability. He grew up thinking he had different shoes.
It is about focusing on the abilities and not the disabilities. I was so happy to have shared this experience with my children. I do hope that the younger generations are growing up with more empathy, understanding, and acceptance of people with differences. Attitudes have come a long way since I attended Public School 151 in Queens New York in the late 60’s. I remember we had children with Down syndrome in the school but they kept them completely separate from the rest of the students. I suppose that the fact that these children could attend public school was at least a trend in the right direction.
I also took the opportunity to learn about the differences between Paralympics and Special Olympics. Both are non-profit organizations. The Special Olympics started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities (ages 8 and above) and all levels. This organization helps develop children and adult’s self-confidence and social skills through supporting sporting events held throughout the year in different locations.
The Paralympics is for high performance athletes with physical disabilities however, beginning this year mentally disabled athletes qualified for some events. The overall categories of allowable disabilities are: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, visual impaired, and Les Autres (meaning The Others). Included in Les Autres are dwarfism, multiple sclerosis, and congenital disorders. These categories are further broken into classification. The athletes must conform to strict criteria regarding their disability and all receive a classification before the beginning of the competitions. The Paralympics follow the same schedule as the Olympics.
Some athletes were born with their disability and others obtained their disability later in life, either through an illness, an accident, or a war injury. And although, I don’t know every athlete’s personal circumstances, I do know that at some point in their lives they made the critical decision to focus on their abilities and pursue their athletic dreams. Knowing what these courageous athletes have done serves as an inspiration to me.
To read more about the London Paralympics go to: http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports/
To read more about the Paralympics go to: http://www.paralympic.org/
To read more about the Special Olympics go to: http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/What_We_Do/What_We_Do.aspx