Joy and frustration at the Paralympic Games

This year Russia held its first-ever Paralympic Games in Sochi. in 1980, the soviet government hosted the Olympics in Moscow but turned down the chance to take on the Paralympics too. “There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.!” a soviet official is said to have responded to the press at the time.

The Paralympic Villages are provided with everything necessary to make life comfortable for the disabled athletes. Source: RIA Novosti

Anastasia Gulyavina, special to RBTH

I knew that I wanted to work as a volunteer in particular at the Paralympic Games the moment I filled out the application. For me this event would be a culmination of my everyday work. I have been working for a charity for several years and one of the things that we do is organize public events.

For me, the Paralympics was a sort of internship, but not a break from work or a change in duties. What I did not expect, but what was most valuable, was that the games ended up being like a big focus group. What the audience was saying about people with disabilities, how the games are explained to children, who they cheer for, whether people want to buy tickets, the feelings and motivation of volunteers....

What I saw was both encouraging and frustrating. On the one hand, tens of thousands of people came to the event, even whole families. They supported all the athletes and asked for the start list, “Because it is nicer for athletes if you shout their name, than simply shout.”

On the other hand, this tsunami of positive energy will probably not make Russian cities more handicap accessible, or increase the number of children with disabilities in the classroom, or even just encourage people to pay attention to those with disabilities without pitying them. It will, I think, gradually subside, leaving vivid memories. But even this would be okay, because if a person is the best version of himself for even just a day, he can return to it.

I joined a group of Sochi volunteers on social networks, where people are constantly posting messages like: I miss it; I try to smile at people in my city; the games changed my life. I would love to see thousands of people continue to uphold the Paralympic values ​​every day. This alone would be a radical change.

What I remember most, as you can see, are not so much the athletes themselves, but the event and how it could encourage progress in my country.

However, I can also say something about the athletes. For me, a person in a wheelchair who is visually impaired and has a prostheses has never been someone different. But by the middle of the Paralympic Games, I had almost stopped noticing that they even had a problem.

I remember there was a moment when someone came up to the information desk at the ski event where I was working and asked which handicaps the athletes would have that were competing that day. For about five seconds I couldn’t figure out what he meant, even though some young women sitting on sleds had just sped past.

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