Friday, September 16, 2016

From Violence to Community

The celebration of sports and abilities that is encompassed by the Paralympics is truly uplifting and inspirational. In themselves, the Paralympic games represent the ability to use athletics as a means of international diplomacy through the creation of personal friendships that surpass nationality or citizenship. At the same time, the Paralympic games promote international diplomacy across boundaries and borders in the promotion of those with disabilities as part of society and indeed as key representatives of their states.

Beyond this, the Paralympic games offer the ability for those disabled by violence to assert their abilities as athletes and as members of a society of Paralympians that does not regard them as victims but rather as competitors and equals. Paralympians at the 2016 Rio games have disabilities from forms of violence that are as different as the sports they compete in.

For example, Brazil native Jovane Silva Guissone, a wheelchair fencer, suffered damage to his spine and legs when he was shot years ago in his own neighbourhood. Despite the impact of local violence, Guissone is a deeply proud Brazilian who has been eager to show off his country as well as his own skills. The results of violence in combat zones also have impacted the Paralympian community. There are many examples of this, such as powerlifter Micky Yule, a former British Royal Engineers staff sergeant wounded by an IED while serving in Afghanistan, and triathlon runner Melissa Stockwell, formerly a first lieutenant in the United States Army, who was similarly wounded in Iraq.

These are only a few of the Paralympians who have found their lives changed by violence and who have used sports to recreate themselves and give them continuity of identity. Their stories are heroic and many have used their status as Paralympians to bring attention to those similarly impacted by violence.

At the same time, the Paralympics allow those impacted by violence of any kind to develop an identity beyond the experience of conflict. It creates a different society in which there is a shared experience of competition and athletic pride. This is a very deep aspect of citizenship of sport, one that involves identity and inclusion.   

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