The Olympics and Paralympics. Where women and men transcend their limits….
Along with millions of others last week, I have spent most evenings watching the extraordinary Paralympics in London on television. At times, I found myself jumping off my sofa (what a privilege to move in such a way) shouting “go on, go on!” as athletes, with the most severe disabilities, competed against each other. It has been a privilege to watch these men and women transcend the limits of their human circumstances.
It is hard to believe what we have watched. Men and women have competed born with an absence of limbs, amputees, the armless and the legless and those with stumps. We have watched men and women, who are blind and partially blind. We have seen competitors with cerebral palsy who have the enormous challenge of coordinating messages from their brain to their muscles. We have seen men and women, civilians and soldiers, who have endured terrible suffering in the past. Their bodies have paid a heavy price for wars, earthquakes, road accidents and sports accidents. And at least one competitor lost a limb through a shark bite. Some paralympians fell out of trees, fell off walls, were crippled in diving accidents, endured spinal injuries and more.
As babies, children and adults, some paralympians had physical disorders due to spina bifida or disabilities through meningitis, polio and multiple cirrhosis. Some have cognitive impairment affecting their speech, their movements and their energies. Yet, they have played their sports with an incredible determination to win a medal for their country, their team, their families and themselves whether in a wheelchair, on bladerunners strapped tight to their stumps or use of other aids to release their passion for sport.
For example, 21 year old Zheng Tao (what a lovely surname) broke the world record in the paralympics in the backstroke. He has no arms. He had to swam his head into the wall to finish. As with other blind swimmers, Bradley Snyder, blinded by a Taliban bomb, relied on his coach to tap him on the head with a pole to tell him he is coming to the end of the length of the pool. There was the cyclist who uses his one leg to cycle 64 kilometres and the blind footballers using a ball with a bell in it. The coach in each team taps the goalposts to indicate where the goal is. The spirit of human determination revealed itself in every single sporting event in the Paralympics reflecting the meaning of elite sports with elite athletics.
All the athletes live and practice for years with the discipline of hardcore Buddhist monks to offer their determination for a matter of sometimes a few seconds, minutes or hours to uplift and delight sports fans and for spectators to marvel at the skill and tenacity of the athletes and experience that exhilarating rush of collective passion in the stadium. In the Olympics, my grandson and I went to Wembley stadium to watch Mexico and Japan in the football semi-finals along with 83,000 others. A great match and amazing Mexican waves. It is the wonder of the collective.
The Paralympics reminded all of us with normal abilities of the blessings to see and hear, to walk and run with easy coordination of our faculties. The Paralympians remind us of the blessings of getting out of bed in the morning unaided, to go to the bathroom, walk up and downstairs, cook a meal, see the dawn, the stars and hug our loved ones.
The word “para” in classical Greek means “alongside.” Paralympics are alongside the Olympics for the able-bodied. In classical Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, para means the supreme. In Pali, the language of the Buddha, para means ultimate.
We applaud every one of the able bodied Olympians for their many years of dedication. They have also truly inspired us. Will the able-bodied Olympics fuse completely with the Paralympics as the supreme Olympics, the ultimate Olympics in the future?
It would mean the full integration of both Games spread over four weeks rather than two seperate Games. Perhaps integration could consist of one day for able bodied athletes and one day for athletes with a disability. This would be the supreme Olympics.
Surely never was so much owed by so many to so few. The Olympians and the Paralympians are extra-ordinary. Just extra-ordinary people.
The Olympic flame has never burnt so bright. These wonderful athletes have lifted the spirits of millions. THANK YOU!