‘I live my life in four-year cycles – from the Olympics to the Olympics’. That’s what I wrote in my motivational letter when applying for my bachelor studies in Sports Management. The Olympic spirit was one of those things that steered me towards sport participation and influenced career choices. It was always my dream to get close to it. Paralympics? Something inferior you say? To be honest, before I became a Games Maker, I had never seen Paralympic sports in action before.
For ten days I was working as a volunteer at the London Paralympic Games in wheelchair basketball. Apart from duties such as showing directions and checking accreditations, I used every opportunity to observe the athletes. I’ve seen them arriving at the venue, preparing for the game, playing the game, losing the game, winning the game, and celebrating the medals. Disability? There was not even a glimpse of it! Ability! The fascinating control they had of the wheelchair made me want to try to sit in one myself and learn the same. It made me wonder why do we so often focus on what we cannot do instead of focusing on what we can?
Paralympic Games is not about impairment, it’s about elite performance! And it was exactly the kind of atmosphere present in London. This was largely due to TV coverage in Britain. Not only did they broadcast the Para-Games from morning till night, but also put effort in explaining the disability classifications as well as rules of the game and specificities in technique in different events (e.g., wheelchair sprint race vs. wheelchair marathon race). Spectators came to the arenas well aware, competent and excited. Did you see any broadcast of the Paralympics on your national channels? My country surely did not show anything. It’s sad because people missed out on hours and hours of amazing action.
I am now extremely excited about Paralympic sports! They are different from the sports we are all used to and open up new perspectives for both participants and spectators. Are you a fan of football? Try watching blind football where spectators have to stay silent and hold their breath at the moments of excitement so that the players could hear the bell inside the ball. Tension builds up and the crowd bursts in cheers when the goal is scored. You truly feel involved in the game – an integral part of it. Moreover, why not try playing it? Even if you don’t have a visual impairment, wearing blinds while playing a team sport will give you new perspective to communication, attention and focus.
What I have learnt from the Paralympics is that sport doesn’t care who you are! Just like in this YouTube video you have all probably seen. It’s the same hard work, sweat, competition, cooperation, fun, joy of victory and tears of a loss. Many of us, young sport psychologists, dream of working with elite athletes and one day going to the Olympics with our national team. Well, have you thought of working with elite athletes with disabilities and one day going to the Paralympics with your national team? That is my dream goal at the moment and I will be actively seeking for opportunities to work with athletes with disabilities.
It seems that the motto of the London 2012, ‘Inspire a generation’, was very appropriate. I truly am inspired by the Paralympic Games and again reassured that I have made the right decision relating my life to sport. After all it’s the place where magic happens – where we become better people, happier people.
Rita Dekšnytė is a final year student in the European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology program at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). She has graduated from the University of Hull (United Kingdom) with a first class bachelor’s degree in Sports and Leisure Management. Her current research interest is gender identities in sport.