Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Paralympics

I watched some of the highlights of the Paralympics today (had to troll the internet for it) and felt mixed feelings. I wondered at the amazing determination of the athletes and was humbled by their absolute joy  at competing. Not once did I see arrogance or hand gestures from them saying 'number one'! There was sincere and heartwarming congratulations from each athlete to their competitors, an obvious mutual respect. Looks passed from competitor to competitor that said, "I know how you feel..." and you know that they do.

Each competitor knows what it is like to be looked down on for moving differently, for speaking strangely, for struggling to do something. Each one of them knows discrimination, even if it has not been deliberate, because of their disability. Each one of these athletes has had to work harder, train harder, feel more pain and overcome more challenges than any of the thousands of athletes who completed the Olympics 2 weeks ago. Each of them has had to make enormous personal and often financial sacrifices to follow their dreams, represent their country and come to compete at the Paralympics.

When I watch ANY Paralympian I have tears in my eyes. Here is a person from any place, of any age, at any stage who has had more challenges in their life than most of us would know in 10 lifetimes. Yet the joy they display, the exuberance that they exhibit humble me beyond words. I know, without a shred of doubt, that if I was to walk in their shoes for even a day, I would complain, moan, grumble, cry "Why me?" from the rooftops. Yet, these incredible athletes enter the arena with smiles and most often leave with tears of joy regardless of whether a medal is around their neck.

I wonder then, which Olympians would the founders be most proud of?

And I think of the Olympic values that Pierre de Coubertin came up with to encapsulate the virtues surrounding the athletes and the games: determination, courage, respect, equality, excellence, friendship and inspiration and I know, without hesitation, that the answer would be the Paralympians.

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