Parasports: going beyond limitations

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Photo: Prashanth Muniraju

Until Roger Bannister ran a mile under a minute in 1954, it was thought impossible for humans to run that fast. Today most international runners can meet the target. If sport is about overcoming limitations, para athletes are some of the greatest mindbenders: for instance, how does a knee amputee play badminton, or a visually impaired person remember all the game positions in chess?

ASTHA, an NGO working for persons with disabilities, organised a sports meet for persons with and without physical disabilities st Devanahalli in the outskirts of Bengaluru on Tuesday. Close to 70 people participated in blind chess, wheelchair tennis, para badminton and para table tennis.

Sunil Jain, a wheelchair athlete and the brains behind the event, feels sport can empower the differently abled. “Think of how a person without hands would do archery,” he says.

As I rack my brain for an answer, he explains, “In the last two minutes, you’ve thought outside your body and its limitations. This is what a person with disability does every time they pick up a sport.” His goal is to offer differently abled athletes opportunities to train and hone their skills.

Sheryl, an M.Sc. Biology student, played badminton for the first time at the event after losing her leg in an accident in January. “I used to play for fun earlier, but now I’m thinking of playing professionally,” she says. As she and other players pick up the racquet, the game is slower than usual, they pause to bend and pick the cork when it hits the floor, or stop when the shot is too far to attempt. But a few minutes into the game, the prosthetics seem to  disappear: there are only a bunch of players giving their best on court.

In the chess room, a group of visually impaired persons from Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in HSR Layout blitz through the chess board as they feel and move their pieces. Playing against sighted players makes no difference to their game. It’s not just chess, Basavaraj, Prashant and Thimmaiah also play blind cricket, and being differently-abled has done little to quell their sense of humour. “He’s the Dhoni of our group,” says Prashant, pointing to a friend, “maybe you can join his fan club!”

Although the winners were announced in the evening, every participant wears a look of accomplishment, from the wheelchair athletes playing lawn tennis to the visually impaired swimmers, many of whom were trained to swim for the first time on Tuesday by international para swimmer Sharath M. Gaikwad.
And to answer the question posed in the beginning: one archer Sunil knows grips the bow between his legs and pulls the arrow with his lips. Because few things are unattainable if you put your mind to it, and every para athlete can testify to that.
(An edited version of this article appeared here in The Hindu)
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A wild horse in the sun

JumpingRide A Wild Horse

Ride a wild horse
with purple wings
Striped yellow and black
except his head
which must be red.

Ride a wild horse
against the sky –
hold tight to his wings

before you die
whatever else
you leave undone
once
ride a wild horse
into the sun.

Hannah Kahn (1911-1988)

I came across this poem many years ago, in a Reader’s Digest story about a child growing up with Down Syndrome. There is something so urgent about these lines. It remains one of my favourites to this day, even though I don’t really get the opening stanza. Why must the horse be purple and yellow and black, or any other colour?

But the rest of it – oh! It sings to me: at least once in your life, you must do something wild and unimaginable, something that you will be remembered for for the rest of your life. Whatever else, you leave undone, once ride a wild horse into the sun. At some minute level, I feel this is my purpose in life: to do that one impossibly crazy thing that will change something fundamental in the world. Am I setting myself up for failure with an aim so lofty? Will I ever do something that momentous? Who knows? All I can do is try.

Agustin and his father with the tractor they built.
Agustin and his father with the tractor they built.

Hannah’s daughter Vivian had Down’s syndrome and Hannah spent much of her spare time working with the differently abled. In the Reader’s Digest story, What Love Can Build, the boy’s mother takes courage in knowing that the poet too faced the tribulations she did. Her son Agustin loved trucks and cranes, and her husband decided to build a tractor along with him, even though how much his son could be a part of the project was uncertain. The poem, she felt, expressed perfectly why she decided to go with her husband’s proposal: “… everyone should have a chance to make one impossible dream come true.”

I leave you with a gorgeous scene at the end of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, where Spirit, the wild mustang, leaps across the canyon and into the sun:

Source: What Love Can Build by Meg Laughlin, from the Miami Herald’s Tropic, June 21, 1998. Subsequently edited in Reader’s Digest, p. 80-84, May 1999. © 1998 Miami Herald. A link to the original article is available here.

Why do we blog?

Ok, so ten thousand people on the big bad Internet have answered this question, in words more eloquent than I can ever churn.

But I need to answer, because in this case, the only answer that matters to me is mine.

I blog because I love words, and fancy myself as a bit of a writer. Also because for years I’ve written things and hidden them in drawers, tying whimsical ribbons on the top and letting them die under the dust.

Life’s questions and the internet

The most powerful thing about the internet is the connections we make through it.

The other day, troubled by an old grudge (seriously, it just never goes!), I randomly typed a few words in a search box. Google is a good place to look for life’s answers. Well, not really. The more accurate thing to say is it’s a good place to find others looking for the same answers.

And this is what I found out:

I am not alone in my pain.

There are thousands of people who have felt what I feel and are trying to forgive themselves and the people around them.

Sharing helps, even with a stranger. Maybe more, because strangers cannot judge you.

Everybody struggles with forgiveness and acceptance. It’s human nature.

Life is hard, and a lot of people have it harder than me. Some wise soul said that if you could see everybody’s pain, you would grab your pile and hold on to it.

There are lots of fools like me, feeding their worries into search boxes around the world, and expecting an answer!

And sometimes, for no explicable reason, it helps.

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations.
I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty,
believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.
– Louisa May Alcott

Dream Big. Always.