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The Paralympics as a Story of the Modern World

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 4 September 2012

To be frank I wasn't expecting the impact of the London 2012 Paralympics on me and many other people I know to be greater than that of London Olympics.

But watching the competition and witnessing the passion and mental power of athletes who by various circumstances have been disabled, I'm not just amazed, but also better informed. Informed about bravery, resolution and determination. And it's not just me.

My friend - a poet, whose legs have been drastically weakened so that he is forced to use a wheelchair - is now beating his personal best in squats. Another friend, this one with an artificial hip, has started jogging again.

But the London Paralympics also tell a tragic story about the modern world.


Nick Beighton with oars

Nick Beighton narrowly missed out on a medal this year

The only Afghan athlete taking part in the games - a powerlifter Mohammad Fahim Rahimi - lost his leg in a mine blast near Kabul. Between 800,000 and two million people are estimated to be disabled in war-torn Afghanistan and he is just one of them.

The story of rower Nick Beighton, who is 30 years old, also takes us back to Afghanistan. He is one of six veterans of the Afghanistan War who is taking part at London 2012 Paralympic Games. He lost both legs after stepping on an improvised explosive devised by the Taliban in Helmand. "Everyone has a different way to deal with rehabilitation, but for me, sport was vital," he told the BBC.

Unlike British war veterans, five Sri Lankan soldiers taking part in the Paralympics have criticised their country for not giving enough financial support to international competitions, despite their good results. "I have to purchase all equipment, shoes, clothes on my own, with my own salary", says UDP Pradeep Sanjaya, who is the fifth best sprinter in the world in the 400m for athletes with muscular problems.

The conflict between the government forces and the Tamil Tigers officially lasted 26 years and killed 70,000. "The only equipment that I have for training is my cane", jumper PA Lal Pushpakumara told the BBC. He goes into the Games as the fourth best Paralympic high jumper in the F44 category. He lost his left leg in 2008, when he was hit by an explosion.

Many athletes have stories to tell from horrendous wars in different parts of the world. Dominique Bizimana, from Rwanda, is a member of the country's volleyball team and president of the Rwandan Paralympic Committee. When he was 16, Bizimana was recruited as a soldier for the Rwandan Patriotic Front and lost his left leg during the civil war which killed 800 thousand people in three years. "After losing my leg, I went back to school. I finished high school and at 21 I went to university," he told BBC Brasil.

But wars don't just physically damage people. The urban violence in Colombia is responsible for the disability of at least four members of their basketball team, who are taking part in their first Paralympic Games in London. Freddy Rodríguez was hit by a stray bullet to his spinal cord when he was eight years old, in Caquetá, in the Colombian Amazon forest.

Thirty-four year-old William Pulido became paraplegic at the age of fifteen, after being shot during a street fight in Bogota. As with most of his teammates, he started playing basketball in a wheelchair during rehabilitation, as a therapeutic activity. "Sport is the fundamental pillar of my life. It was thanks to sport that I rehabilitated myself, studied and moved on," Pulido told BBC Mundo.

A good deal of Brazilian paralympians in London 2012 were victims of car crashes. In 2000, seamstress Claudia Santos was hit by a car in São Paulo, when she was leaving work. She lost her right leg immediately. Now, at 35, she is rowing world champion and is competing in her second Paralympic Games. "A doctor told me I should take up sport, in a period of my life when I was in a lot of pain. Until then, I did not know any paralympians," she told BBC Brazil.


Mudassar Baig

Mudassar Baig wants to inspire his nation at the Paralympics

The eighteen year old tennis player Natália Mayara, from the same country, says she did not have to overcome as many hardships as most paralympians. She was hit by a car when she was only two. "For me, it was easier because I learned to walk using prosthetic legs and the wheelchair, so I never knew how to walk differently," she told BBC Brasil. She is now the first Brazilian woman to play tennis in Paralympic Games.

Pakistani athlete Mudassar Baig has a shorter right leg as a consequence of polio, a disease he contracted when he was still a child. At 33, he is one of three athletes from the country competing in the London 2012 Paralympics, running in 200m and 400m events. "I was wanted to run like other boys, but my disability would not allow me. I promised myself that one day I would run and win, and this day has arrived in London", he told the Pakistan Today newspaper. Polio is still a big issue in Pakistan.

Different stories from different athletes from different parts of the world. But what unites all these exceptional athletes is their willpower to overcome tragic events in their lives in that 'awesome and furious world' and to teach us, as well as to celebrate, the invincibility of human spirit.

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