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Disabled athletes provide a lesson for all humanity

Publication Date : 05-09-2012


Thai athlete Rungroj Thainiyom's victory on Saturday not only brought the Kingdom its first gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics but also sweet revenge for the Thai table tennis player - he managed to beat the odds to defeat Spaniard Alvaro Valera.

Rungroj has not only managed to overcome his physical disability. He has also displayed great mental strength to conquer the Spanish champion. The 25-year-old third seed raised the Thai flag and gave joy to the nation after Thailand missed out on a gold medal at the Olympic Games held earlier in London.

"I'm so happy I made it. This gold medal is for everyone back home," he said of the most momentous match of his career. "Before the game I was a bit worried because I'd played [Alvaro] before and lost. But in a way it was good, because I didn't have any pressure today."

Rungroj's rise to top came after a string of exceptional performances, and as of Tuesday, Thailand was able to celebrate its first gold medal along with Saichon Konjen's bronze medal in the 100-metre wheelchair race. The kingdom is counting on more medals and the Thai athletes have cheered the nation with their stunning performances.

The 2012 Paralympics in London is the most competitive event ever, with the largest number of disabled athletes coming together since its inception. Over the past few days, these athletes have displayed their competitive spirit. They have shown speed and stamina on the track, demonstrated agility in spite of physical handicaps and brought joy to spectators in the stadiums and arenas and television audiences all around the world. These athletes will not settle for anything less than fair play.

On Monday, South African Oscar Pistorius spiced up the competition by first complaining about a rival's blades, and then apologising for the timing of his complaint, following his defeat in the 200-metre final. But the "Blade Runner" still insisted that officials need to change the rules to prevent some runners from getting an unfair advantage.

The stunning opening ceremony set the stage for the event, which is going on for two weeks. With the theme of "Enlightenment", the ceremony took the audience through the realm of science and creativity, with Professor Stephen Hawking onstage to illustrate the limitless bounds of possibility in spite of adversity.

Some physically advantaged people like to portray themselves as victims and prefer to wait for help from others, yet these ostensibly "disabled" athletes show how they have overcome the odds with grace and dignity. The triumph of these athletes should help change people's often stereotyped perception of disabled people. These Olympians command the respect of the cheering crowds with their exciting performance and fierce competitiveness.

While we enjoy the performances of these athletes, let's not overlook how our society treats people with disabilities. A little opportunity can help people overcome physical challenges. A little bit of assistance can enable handicapped people to live independently. Special facilities and resources such as libraries that allow physically impaired people easy access are all that it takes to widen the provision of knowledge and information.

The stunning performances by the athletes at the Paralympics shows what human beings can be capable of. Indeed, the Paralympics can be just as exciting and entertaining an event - with a variety of sports to watch, from swimming and powerlifting to track and field - as the main event contested by fully able-bodied athletes.

The disabled can inspire us all with the determination to overcome adversity. These athletes show that they can rise beyond the limitations placed upon them by using the best of what they have.

In fact, every single journey by every disabled athlete who has overcome personal disadvantage and managed to participate in one of the world's greatest sporting events is in itself a triumph that should be celebrated.


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