Stephen Hawking died during the Paralympics (March 14, 2018), but left us with some inspiring words he spoke during the 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony held in London. "We are all different there is no such thing as a standard or run of the mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. Look up at the stars and not down at your feet." Another quote, "However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do and succeed at"
Hawking was given a devastating diagnosis, as a young man, but he persisted and with modern adaptations was able to give greater understanding to our universe. Given a chance and modern technology many people have adapted to a wide variety of disabilities.
I watched the Paramerican games when held in Ontario. Snow and ice add an increment of difficulty that those who live in northern climates have to make adjustments to (and enjoy). Maintaining balance under slippery conditions requires skill and initially courage.
The sight of amputated limbs makes one uncomfortable, but one can get used to it. Prosthetic limbs are becoming more normal. Mankind has gradually and unevenly accepted different races, both sexes and even sexual orientation. The disabled are also humans with untapped potential waiting to make a greater contribution.
To make for a competitive contest requires classifications. There can be endless discussions about how one amputation is more of a handicap than another, but international authorities have settled on criteria. Even a sleight disability needs to be given an opportunity. In some activities the visually impaired are given an opportunity to compete with the aid of guides. They have categories for standing and sitting skiing. In the future there are apt to be more classifications and opportunities for everyone to compete.
The American flag bearer, for the Opening Ceremony, Mike Schultz was a champion snowmobile racer until an accident took off one of his legs above the knee. On a radio interview he recalled walking without a prosthetic device with his daughter and tripping. He was forced to throw her to a nearby couch, but realized he needed to do more. He ended up engineering his own prosthetic leg and set up a business. One of his customers suggested he try snowboarding which he did, becoming a major champion. He not only made a difficult adjustment for himself, but also for other people making them not only more independent, but also more productive.
The American flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony, Oksana Mastters also has an interesting story. She was born in Ukraine after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and suffered several birth defects that resulted in amputation on both legs and surgery on one of her hands to give her a thumb. She had been abandoned in an orphanage and was adopted by an American woman who bought her to States. Oksana got involved in rowing, cycling and later skiing. She won medals in all sports, but finally got her gold in skiing.
Canadian ambitions always come back to hockey. The final gold medal game was as exciting as any with the Canadians on top for most of the game, but banging the goal post on an empty net as the Americans desperately tried to tie up the game. In the losing seconds of regulation time they did tie the game and won in overtime. It has been hard for Canadians to accept that we aren't always the best in our chosen sport, but it shows our gift to the world
Wondering where the women were scheduled for sledge hockey I learned that there was no program for women, but that the organizing committee had decided to eliminate women and change to a mixed, but apparently no women took part. Likely this boils down to numbers in that there weren't enough women who were qualified and desired to participate. Maybe that is not altogether a bad thing, but likely the problem was not that there were enough disabled women, but that there wasn't enough interest. The Paralympic movement has encouraged many disabled people to get more physically (and socially) active and will undoubtedly with the increasing success of their events the situation will improve for the disabled including more opportunities for women.
The original Olympics were also about the arts. The Koreans have used their economic success to help spread their culture and have their culture contribute to their success. For a few years I have enjoyed a few Korean cultural gifts--food, music and movies. (see http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/04/a-slice-of-korean-cinema.html ). The Paralympics brought us all some music and dance. The deaf have their own interaction games, but the Paralympics gave a platform for some hearing impaired to demonstrate a dance. Highlighted a performance of Bae Hui Gwan Band which included several members with different forms of disability. Their leader was invited by major Korean pop star Ailee to take a spotlight and perform a duet.
Adam Hall from New Zealand and Sini Pyy from Finland were celebrated for best exemplifying the Paralympic value and spirit.
The Paralympics isn't just about the athletes, it is for all of us. You can find old fashioned competitive fun, but you can also find inspiration that you too can overcome difficulties. I remember a boss who sometimes steered me to view someone severely handicapped and asked me if I had any problems. It made my problems seem pretty petty. The Olympic movement for all its critics offers the world a platform to express international goodwill, the pursuit of excellence and a chance to display the humanity of us all.