Rio’s poor­est show ath­letes new mean­ing of ‘hand­i­capped’

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

FRENCH Par­a­lympians got a taste of Rio’s tough re­al­i­ties in a visit to a favela on Septem­ber 16 but the im­pov­er­ished chil­dren greet­ing the dis­abled ath­letes got an eye-opener of their own.

For­eign celebri­ties and sports stars of­ten fol­low a well-beaten track from Rio’s glam­orous tourist-friendly dis­tricts to make brief morale-boost­ing vis­its in the poor, some­times deeply vi­o­lent favela com­mu­ni­ties.

But the trip by a dozen French ju­dokas and other Par­a­lympians to Rocinha, the big­gest favela of all, had a dif­fer­ence. Rather than just com­ing to wit­ness the lo­cals’ dif­fi­cul­ties, th­ese vis­i­tors brought their own sto­ries of over­com­ing ter­ri­ble odds.

Af­ter leav­ing the bub­ble of the ath­lete’s vil­lage in the posh Barra district, meet­ing about 30 young judo stu­dents in rough-edged Rocinha was a dis­tinct re­al­ity check for the French.

“We are very lucky to be with them. Not all the chil­dren here have what they de­serve: ac­cess to school­ing, health, a roof over their heads. It’s ex­tremely im­por­tant that we give them a lit­tle mo­ment of hap­pi­ness,” said San­drine Martinet, who won gold in the un­der-52kg cat­e­gory and has had poor sight since birth.

She and other French ath­letes were wel­comed to the In­sti­tuto Rea­cao NGO by its founder, 2004 Olympic bronze medal­ist Flavio Canto.

“It’s a great day be­cause the cham­pi­ons are here,” an­nounced Canto, whose in­sti­tute pro­motes ac­cess to sport and ed­u­ca­tion for Rio’s poor and has trained top ju­dokas, in­clud­ing gold medal­ist at the Olympics this Au­gust, Rafaela Silva.

For about an hour, ju­dokas, ath­let­ics team mem­bers and swim­mers took part in the train­ing, talked with the chil­dren and gave demon­stra­tions. Each had a sep­a­rate story of be­ing blind or deaf or partly paral­ysed or am­pu­tated.

They wanted to show that sport “doesn’t have lim­its”, Martinet said.

Mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion If the vis­i­tors were im­pressed by the ob­sta­cles Rocinha’s young face in their at­tempt to build lives, the ad­mi­ra­tion was mu­tual.

Young ju­dokas had their eyes blind­folded so that they could ex­pe­ri­ence judo with­out be­ing able to see. “I did it and it was re­ally, re­ally dif­fi­cult,” said 15-year-old Ju­lia.

“They are in­cred­i­ble to be able to do judo with­out see­ing,” she said.

Re­nan, 11, was ec­static af­ter hav­ing been able to com­pete against French­man Cyril Jonard, who is deaf and has im­paired vi­sion.

“They don’t have our ad­van­tages,” Re­nan said, “but I don’t feel sorry for them be­cause they made us feel proud and they win even with hand­i­caps.”

It was a view mir­rored by the French Par­a­lympians when they looked at the young, hope­ful res­i­dents of the favela.

Marti­nent praised the blind­folded chil­dren for “go­ing at it full tilt” and said she was touched how after­ward “they came for a hug”.

“This favela is very big, very crowded and all th­ese chil­dren don’t have the same things as us in France. We need to show them that the world of sport is in­ter­ested in them,” said Par­a­lympic swim­mer Elodie Lo­randi, who won bronze for France in the 100m and 400m freestyle, and has a paral­ysed leg.

Then she said, “We should do this more of­ten in France be­cause it’s im­por­tant to ex­plain early to chil­dren what be­ing hand­i­capped means.”

Par­a­lympic French ath­lete Cyril Jonard (on the floor) is pic­tured dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion with the favela chil­dren.

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