Paralympians overcome obstacles, break records

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In the fading noise from the closing ceremonies of the Olympic games, the Paralympians compete. But after two weeks of focused international attention, the media seems to move away from sports competition back to the commonplace: the economy, new technology, celebrity gossip, and ongoing war. Often the Paralympics are lost in this return to normalcy.

For us, it took a gallery of incredible images from this year’s X Paralympic Winter Games to even give thought to the 506 athletes who competed in Vancouver and Whistler this past week. A photograph of Haitao Du, a cross-country skier from China, pictures him competing in the 20-kilometer cross-country race, with no poles and no arms. A photograph from the podium of the men’s slalom standing event shows Australian bronze-medalist Cameron Rahles-Rahbula with one leg; German silver-medalist Gerd Schonfelder with only one arm; and New Zealand gold-medalist Adam Hall, who suffers from spina bifida. A shot of the United States’ Patrick McDonald getting ready for his team’s wheelchair curling game just begs the question — how do they even do that?

It is a testament to the ability and perseverance of these athletes that the Paralympics can even exist. These men and women have overcome disabilities that society views as completely debilitating and are taking part in an event that defines them as some of the top competitors in the world.

Originally a portmanteau combining “paraplegic” with “Olympic,” the global governing body of the games has re-oriented the title to replace paraplegic with parallel. They are supporting the ideal of the Paralympics being a co-event with the Olympic movement, not a sideline occurrence. And this is apparent to those who pay attention to the games. These are incredible performances of athleticism that unfortunately seem to have fallen out of the spotlight.

We want these Olympians to be granted the same respect as their peers whom we watched, eyes glued to televisions and monitors for days. They are every bit as qualified and have often come from unimaginable places to reach their dreams. They deserve our attention as much as the Olympics that fills mass media.
So, for the same reasons as for the Olympic games, give the Paralympics a look next time they’re on — to see compelling athletes representing their countries, their competitive spirits outshining any obstacles that may have been placed in their way.