I remember the first time I had a glimpse of the Paralympics. No, it was not the svelte and good-looking Oscar Pistorius zooming down the track at superhuman speed. It was, in fact, an advertisement–mere fleeting glances of Paralympic athletes flashing across the screen in a PR stunt as the International Olympic Committee boasted about its decision to include the Paralympics alongside the Olympic Games. The year was 2008, and the summer Olympics were taking place in Beijing. It was the first time a host city had hosted both the Olympics and Paralympics in the same venue, and at the same time. It was progress.
But did any of us actually see any of the Paralympic athletes outside of these publicity messages? Were any of the competitions aired? To my knowledge, no. I’ve been a pretty die-hard Olympics spectator for years now, and not once have I seen the Paralympic games aired on television. Out of curiosity, I took it upon myself to find the footage of the Paralympic competitions–and thanks to the internet, that wasn’t too hard to do.
What I discovered was a completely different universe in sport–a universe in which almost everything we think we know about athleticism is either turned on its head or magnified tenfold. For it’s one thing to watch the lithe, genetically gifted, and fully able-bodied Michael Phelps dominate the swimming field, but it’s quite another to witness a feat like this.
Olympic athletes inspire me, but Paralympic athletes inspire me beyond comprehension. These athletes–who have decided to work with their disabilities, in spite of their disabilities, and around their disabilities to generate the strength, power, and athleticism of their able-bodied counterparts–are embodying the pursuit of human potential on a whole new level. These athletes represent the ultimate expression of persistence, perseverance, and the dogged pursuit of dreams regardless of perceived obstacles. These athletes are heroes, and it’s their absence from the televised Olympic Games that breaks my heart.
How would airing the Paralympic Games affect cultural outlooks on ability and disability? Could more widespread coverage of Paralympic athletes ignite change or, at the very least, inspire even deeper levels of humility, respect, and esteem? One can only wonder. But one thing’s for sure: if I had money and/or power, I’d have those athletes all over the media.
As an endurance athlete, I draw great strength from stories of people who are able to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges to push through and carry on. These people are a constant reminder of the power of the human spirit to craft the mind and body into strong, powerful, creative expressions of our most authentic selves. The next time you hit the wall during a run, or feel unmotivated to go out and do something active, I recommend watching a clip or two from the Paralympic Games. Whether it puts tears in your eyes or inspires a deep level of awe and respect, I guarantee it will light a fire within.