Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Paralympics World Championships 2015 in Doha, Qatar



There was an immediate exhilaration when entering the stadium with 90 flags from different countries at the 2015 World Championships for Paralympics--an opportunity for athletes with disabilities to compete. I am standing with my son who has autism. He too stuns me with his zest and energy for life. Every day he changes my heart, and makes me see things I would not understand without him. 
Ninety countries gathered in Doha, Qatar last week for the 2015 IPC World Paralympics Championships--the last championship before the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. There were 1300 athletes and 210 events--with 54 world records. China came in first with the most medals, 41, followed by Russia with 24. The UK and US tied, bringing home 13 gold medals. It was touted and advertised as an event that would be "beyond incredible." And it was! I could barely tear myself away from the electrifying exhilaration after the first night that I attended. Cheers and tears were abundant in every section where people from many countries mixed together, rooting for every hero on the field--in dozens of languages and accents. We found ourselves wanting to know about every athlete's journey to this competition. Borders of countries blurred, and the world contracted this week in Doha. It felt like we were all on one united team.

Many of the spectators, like us, with our fully functioning bodies, witnessed a most beautiful, humbling sight as we watched the athletes. The Paralympic athletes elegantly ran, raced in a wheelchair, threw a shot put, discus, or javelin, and high jumped. We saw athletes with disabilities who competed with all their grit and determination--people who had not surrendered to disease, injury, or discouragement. The begging question of the night was: If they so resolutely take care of their bodies and continue to courageously perform, I too can do hard things--feats that may seem insurmountable to me at that moment. Their efforts showed a magnificence of movement, whether they received a medal or not. They gave us a hallowed moment, a memory to tuck away and be remembered again and again.

I have seldom viewed such dignity, resilience, and grace. I felt privileged to be there under the same sky together with them and their families. It was a rare night of celebration to view the indomitable will of the human spirit--the refusal to be conquered or defeated. Watching the Paralympic events was the kind of experience that alters your perceptions, and most of all, your heart. But I  am going to let the pictures tell most of the story.

When I viewed this short video that was shown to advertise the event in Doha, I was transfixed and determined to attend. I did not know about all the classifications for Paralympic athletes, and the rigor it requires to ever get a spot on the team. I am sure your heart will be changed as your watch this short clip about a 13 year old boy from Doha:
Here are the classifications for the athletes that competed in the World Championships in Doha for Paralympics:
ATHLETICS
All disability groups can compete in athletics but a system of letters and numbers is used to distinguish between them.
A letter F is for field athletes, T represents those who compete on the track, and the number shown refers to their disability.
11-13: Track and field athletes who are visually impaired. Blind athletes compete in class 11 and are blindfolded and run with a guide runner. Athletes in class 12 are visually impaired but may choose to run with a guide.
20: Track and field athletes who are intellectually disabled. There are three events for men and women in the London programme - 1500m, long jump and shot put.
31-38: Track and field athletes with cerebral palsy or other conditions that affect muscle co-ordination and control. Athletes in class 31-34 compete in a seated position; athletes in class 35-38 compete standing.
40: Track and field athletes with short stature (dwarfism).
42-46: Track and field amputees. In class 42-44 the legs are affected and in class 45-46 the arms are affected. Athletes in these classes compete standing and do not use a wheelchair
T51-54: Wheelchair track athletes. Athletes in class 51-53 are affected in both lower and upper limbs while T54 athletes have partial trunk and leg functions
F51-58: Wheelchair field athletes. Athletes in F51-54 classes have limited shoulder, arm and hand functions and no trunk or leg function while F54 athletes have normal function in their arms and hands. In the F55-58 classes the trunk and leg function increases


"The Golden Girls," from the UK, with their coach, Paula Dunn. The girls won the T-35-38 4x100 meter relay. This classification means they have cerebral palsy. They smashed the world record in 52.22. Such a proud moment to see these girls and their parents. Unforgettable! 
The Russian relay team for T-35-38. These girls, in my opinion, brought some needed joy to a country that had just heard about the terrible plane crash in the Sinai peninsula. The Russian girls came in second place. Again, so proud!

The Chinese team, who came in third. So proud of each of them.
It was at this moment that I realized that I was cheering for each country, even though I am not from any of them. I cried, with happy tears, for each of those twelve girls on the stage and their families. It was such a jubilant moment.
I stood next to this Chinese couple, the woman who had only part of one arm. Since I speak Chinese, I told her she was very, very beautiful. 
Some Brazilian Paralympian athletes watching some of the closing ceremonies.
The girl in the middle is blind, and ran with her guide who is standing next to her. It was such a privilege to meet and talk with them in my elementary Spanish.
At each medal ceremony there were women in their abayas who carried the medals and flowers on the plates--ready to give it to the athletes.
On the podium for the Men's 4x100 T-35, T-38 relay competition. Germany got the gold.

Gold medal Men's 4x100 relay team T-35, T-38 for Germany. Here they are posed with their coach.


As we looked down from our section, we could see the Men's 100 meter race, with the Women's 400 race for unsighted athletes. To watch these athletes enter the track and field, with their crutches or prosthetic limbs in hand, was a sight we will never forget. The courage and grit that was exhibited in that stadium stirred all of our emotions (and some stray tears) as we watched the human spirit conquer unbelievable feats.
The athletes with the yellow shirts, are the guides for the Women's 400 meter running event. The guides run right next to the unsighted athlete, around the track. There is an obvious, but silent symmetry that unites them.

One of the Women's 400 Meter team, a pair, one is the guide in the yellow shirt, and the other is the unsighted athlete.  Since my father-in-law was blind (he landed on D-Day, and was blinded  six weeks later), my husband and I both teared up at this race. Post about my father-in-law who was blinded: http://trekingonward.blogspot.qa/2015/05/i-might-not-have-sight-but-i-have_28.html The athletes ran together, in perfect balance of proximity and speed-- staggeringly beautiful experience to see.
A team from Africa, one is the guide, and the other is the unsighted athlete.

At the end finishing line, holding hands, the guide and the unsighted athlete.

Paralympic Women's 400 meter events with guide. To see the pairs of runners, with each pair having a guide to aid the unsighted athlete was an experience we will never forget. They grasped hands, as soon as the race was finished.

An athlete in the 200 meter T-54 race 

Many of the athletes wore their country's flag draped about them.

Samantha Kinghorn, 19, from Scotland, with her parents, elated in her bronze finish, for the Women's 200 meter T-54. Her mum told me Samantha was in an accident when she was 14, and lost both of her legs. She trains several hours a day and speaks to others in the UK about her journey. What a smile! So proud of her!
Amanda Kotaja, from Finland, won gold for the Women's 200 meter T-54. This picture is just after her race. T-54 is a classification that means there is normal hand and arm use. There is no trunk or limited use. Isn't she stunning?  https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=amanda%20kotaja

A resolute German athlete after a race.

We were spellbound at the high jump. I will never forget the handsome, young Brazilian high jumper who threw his crutches to the side, and jumped with one leg across the track. He then proceeded to high jump over the bar. It was a portrait of beauty, courage, and grace that will always live on in me.

Another athlete running to get over the high jump.

Such a beautiful sight to see the many people from different countries walking together and cheering each other on.

An athlete from South Africa posing after his race.
One of the signs that were all over the stadium.

A medal ceremony for the winners of a wheelchair race.


The next three shots are of a high jumper that show the grit and tenacity that this event would take for an athlete:

This man has taken off his prosthetic leg, and has proceeded to go over the bar.

Afterwards, I spotted the disappointment in his face that the bar had not cleared, but to me he was a hero.

An adorable UK fan. I have to say the UK fans were in the most abundance.at the Paralympics. A few Brits came all the way for the Championships, even if they had no family in the events. Check out @PaulaJubillee if you want to see more pictures.

Hollie Arnold, from the UK,  receiving her gold medal for the javelin.

Hollie Arnold. running to her mother. to give her a big hug
As soon as Hollie got off the stand or podium, she ran to her mom to give her a long embrace. We were all a tittle teary eyed watching on.

A night to never forget.Thank you to the athletes and their families who exemplify a human will and endurance that will live long with us. Thank you to Doha, Qatar for hosting such a "beyond incredible" event!