By Andrew Dargie
Today I witnessed something that I just could not pass up sharing. Professional sports are broadcast 24 hours a day, every single day of the year. Sport can bring about powerful emotions. We celebrate and party when the game-winning touchdown is scored, and people can be distraught and upset when the final shot rims out. Everyone knows about the Yankees, the Green Bay Packers, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods, David Beckham, and many other top athletes. Today I witnessed something in sport that I have never experienced before; something that I think for the most part is ignored and neglected, but something that is an example of true perseverance, and something that is truly inspiring.
The Paralympics is largely an unknown in the traditional sports world. Very few know the names of the athletes with disabilities, and almost no one watches the Paralympics compared to the millions who follow the regular Olympic Games. It is very easy to just say you feel sorry for someone with no legs and look the other way. It is almost normal to look at something or someone unnatural and see only a deformity. Today I was volunteered to help officiate a Canadian Paralympics track meet, and I came away feeling completely inspired.
I was able to watch athletes with disabilities ranging from paraplegia to blindness to cerebral palsy push themselves to their limits, demonstrate their remarkable abilities in the face of their disabilities, and show their amazing determination to excel without the potential for million dollar contracts to motivate them. I saw athletes sweat and hurt without thousands of people cheering them on. I also saw the gratitude of the athletes for just the opportunity to compete and achieve personal goals. This strikes me as the essence of the Olympic spirit.
Watching the track meet today was such a revelation. It was in sharp contrast to a world with so many self-absorbed, prima donna athletes, many of whom appear to live lavish lifestyles and treat others with little respect. It is almost unimaginable to envision life without legs or sight. I believe that these kind of challenges would make most able-bodied people curl up into a ball and simply feel sorry for themselves. Not one Paralympics athlete failed to cross the finish line today. Not one Paralympics athlete pretended to pull a hamstring. Not one Paralympics athlete made excuses. Not one Paralympics athlete bragged or gloated when they won. They all waited for their fellow competitors, supported, and cheered for each other. They celebrated each other’s successes with honesty and authenticity.
Like many others, I have paid little attention to athletes of the Paralympics. I have been reminded what a blessing it is to have the gift of sight and health, but more importantly I have been reminded that people can transcend their challenges and celebrate their remarkable abilities. I have been truly inspired.