In the wake of the Paralympic Games in Rio, I wanted revisit the issue of athleticism for the (dis?)abled. In my previous post, I juxtaposed the video of Paralympic dressage with a quotation from Dom Duarte I’s treatise on horse-riding, where he argued that no apparent physical impediment should prevent anyone from becoming a reasonably good rider. Indeed, we see in the video extremely handicapped people who control the horses much better than most amateurs and look much more elegantly on horseback than any bunch of ordinary students at a riding school. And yet, these people are amateurs, too, for most paralympic athletes have daytime or part-time jobs and are not paid or are paid very little for being athletes.
In preparation for the Rio Olympics, the British Channel 4 issued a clip, ‘We’re the Superhumans’, with a refrain ‘Yes I can!’, where ‘disabled’ people demonstrated their various abilities in sports and daily life. The clip showed many things that a so-called ‘healthy’ person, including myself, would be unable – or unwilling – to undertake, such as the extreme wheel-chair jump…
The Latvian Paralympic team, indeed, accomplished the feat that our Olympic team, for whatever reason could not: there were two golds and two bronze medals in track-and-field events, as well as a variety of other awards won by these people with severe check on their physical witness.
Superhumans… After watching the song, and the Paralympic dressage video, with tears in my eyes, uplifted yet horrified, I thought: Are we subhuman? Complaining about this and that pain, weakness, lack of time, lack of talent, age, whatever.
‘Whatever a heart can conceive and a mind can believe, you can achieve’
‘It is not a shame not to reach for the stars, it is a shame to never try to.’
These two quotations inspired Natalie du Toit, a South African woman whose leg was amputated when she was 17, to train. She became a winning swimmer in various para-events, and even qualified for the London Olympic Games. Yes, you got it right, for the healthy-athletes’ games. The first-ever female amputee to achieve this.
How did these people achieve where we, the ‘healthy’ ones failed – failed to try even, in most cases? In his treatise on the art of riding, Dom Duarte speaks about a special grace, which inspires a man to be fearless and persevere in spite of odds. Nowadays, we don’t like to talk of God and grace – dismissing or shying it as inconvenient, outdated, unscientific. Yet if we read hagiographies of saints -even recent saints, where every word of the legend is underwritten by eyewitness or documentary accounts – we see old people, weak people, blind people, not only going on successfully with their daily duties, but also doing hard physical tasks. Being athletes with divine blessing.