Courage, Determination and Grace
Within a very short time, the Paralymic Games 2012 will begin in London. It is hard to truly appreciate the courage and effort that these athletes expend in their efforts to become among the best in the world. Their sporting achievements are only part of the story.
The physical and mental challenges that they have faced would make many an able-bodied person blanch. Every one of these disabled athletes, regardless of their country of origin, will have put forward a huge effort with hours of training and heartache. Their families and support groups will have rejoiced and suffered with them along their journey.
The following short profiles of a very few of Autralia's Paralympians are perhaps representative of the stories of others.
Abebe Fekadu is not a typical Australian name but he won gold for his new homeland at the 2007 Arafura Games in Darwin, Northern Territory. He cried when Australia's national anthem was played and the flag was raised. Abba, as he is known, arrived from Ethiopia as a refugee. His father was executed when Abebe was eight. As young adult Abebe become involved in pro-democracy meetings.
While fleeing from the police after a meeting he was flung from the car and broke his back. Some years later, after arriving in Australia and spending time in detention, he began training in the gym. He can now lift over three times his body weight. Abebe's attitude and steely determination is typical of all athletes heading for the London Paralympics. Without such an outlook, they simply wouldn't make the grade.
Grace Bowman will be competing in the dressage. Grace's family has always been involved with horses. At just twelve years of age, Grace was cannoned from her horse into a low tree branch. Her spine was dislocated and her spinal cord severed. She continued to be involved with horses and Pony Club. Then, when she was sixteen, her mother was killed when a horse she was trying to load onto a float, reared and came back on top of her.
Grace continued to ride with the full support and help of her father. Then, in 2011 her father died of cancer leaving her to continue to follow her Paralympic dreams alone. It is difficult to imagine the heartache she must have felt at this time.
Watching Grace being placed on a horse is quite fascinating. She virtually throws her useless legs either side of the saddle then velcroes them into position out of the way.
Ahmed Kelly and his brother Emmanuel both have limb deficiencies. They were left in a Baghdad orphanage when very young. Ahmed has significant disabilitles to his arms and legs. In 1998, Moira Kelly from the Children's First Foundation was visiting the orphanage and couldn't resist the two brothers. She brought both boys back to Australia.
Ahmed was fitted with prostheses after his deformed lower legs were removed. He has no hands. When Aussie Rules football became too tough for his body, he turned to swimming. His brother has pursued a singing career. While his achievements are outstanding, Moira Kelly, his adoptive mother, is even more worthy of commendation. She has also adopted conjoined twins. The sisters, Trishna and Krishna, were separated in 2009 after 27 hours of surgery. One in particular continues to have ongoing problems. The family is a tight-knit unit who support and gain strength from each other.
Like quite a few other people, Nigel Barley has ridden his bike from Perth to Sydney. Nothing special about that really – except that is a trip of around 4,437 kilometres, Nigel is a paraplegic and in 2007 he rode a hand-cycle the whole distance.
Nigel broke his back at work when he fell from a three metre high roof and landed on a hammer. Since deciding to take on hand-cycling, he has won a number of awards including winning a record for non-stop hand-cycling. Among a number of international achievements, Nigel was named 2011 West Australian Sportsperson of the Year.
Matthew Bugg had a snowboarding accident at the age of 23, leaving him a paraplegic. He continued his involvement in single-handed ocean sailing and is likely to be the only Australian representative from the state of Tasmania. He is currently ranked fifth in the world. Matthew is a qualified chef.
Ryley Batt already has two Paralympic Games under his belt. Ryley has no legs and has had surgery to separate his fingers. Until the age of twelve, he rode around on his skateboard. However after a wheelchair rugby demonstration at his school, he decided to try a wheelchair. Ryley is a passionate fan of motorsports and a self-confessed adrenaline junkie. He is recognised as one of the best Paralympic rugby players in the world.
Matthew Cameron has a rare physical disability which doesn't allow him to stand. Despite 25 operations since birth, Matthew continues to have a go at any sport. Many of these athletes have had multiple operations but continue to bounce back and carry on. They are truly an inspiration.
Matthew will be competing in the wheel chair racing. In 2003, he was Townsville's Australian Sportsperson of the Year. As well as these achievements, Matthew has certificates in business and computer-aided drafting, and has recently completed a traineeship in business and emergency operations.
Chris Bond is another wheelchair rugby player. Until the age of 19, Chris was a typical sports-loving teenager. A rare form of leukaemia followed by a bowel infection resulting in septic shock forced doctors to amputate both legs below the knee, his left hand and all but one finger on his right hand. This must surely have been devastating for a once-fit young man. However Chris is now in the elite wheelchair rugby team and is looking forward to going to London. Not content with managing his own life, Chris has taken on roles to help others. For around three years, he was a board member for Canteen which raises funds and supports young people living with cancer.
Every paralympian from every country will have similar amazing stories of incredible courage and determination. Their devoted family, and friends who support them also deserve our respect and goodwill. May the Paralympics be a wonderful occasion for them all.