Ever heard of the Paralympic Games? Unless you’re an avid sports fan, or someone with a connection to the disabled community, chances are you haven’t. But, they’re happening over the course of the next two weeks (September 7-18) – also in Rio de Janeiro – and are just as worthy of the attention that the regular Olympics receive.
They might even be more impressive, for no other reason than they feature competitors with physical impairments or disabilities who have conquered their limitations and defied all odds.
Separate from the Special Olympics, where anyone above the age of 8 years old with an intellectual disability can compete, the Paralympics are only for people who have one of 10 eligible impairments. But, just like other Olympic athletes, they must qualify, and spend years training and competing to do just that.
Olympic athletes are remarkable beings – demonstrating strength, bravery and refined skill at the most intense level of competition. But, there’s something remarkable about watching individuals who have limitations to their physical being demonstrate just as much strength, bravery and skill as those who have full mobility.
Having volunteered at the Special Olympics in the Lowcountry, I was continually impressed by the ability of disabled individuals not only to participate, but to compete and accomplish just like anyone else. I even had my picture taken with three Special Olympians, all of whom have won medals in equestrian and other sports as well!
While the Paralympic Games may not receive the coverage they deserve, we’re certainly making progress: for the first time, this year’s games will have airtime similar to the Olympics…as they should!
The individuals competing in the Paralympics have extraordinary stories, inspiring even the most apathetic sports fan. If nothing else, the games are a reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit: of the ability of all humans – disabled or not – to rise above challenges, soaring to new heights.