The Rio Paralympics began with controversy and ended with tragedy, but in between there was a lot of joy and triumph.
Like the Olympics that took place in August, September’s Paralympic Games in Rio began under a cloud of controversy, with the Russian team banned for systematic doping and Brazil’s economic crisis threatening to derail staffing and transportation for Paralympic events. Still, being an athlete is as much a state of mind as body, and as Paralympic coach Bob Foth pointed out, people with disabilities are used to dealing with inconvenience.
“There’s a whole bunch of people who always have to find solutions to stuff, just in daytoday living,” Foth told reporters. “How do you reach the top cabin when you’re in a wheelchair? How do you navigate a failed curb cut? All these little things. And so it is very much part of the DNA that I’ve seen for everybody in the Paralympic movement.”
Sure enough, despite any inconveniences, the 2016 games, which took place from September 7th through the 18th, turned out to be spectacular. New world records were set in breaststroke swimming, the discus throw, shot put, powerlifting and more. Canoeing and triathlon competitions were added for the first time. And British athlete Kadeena Cox won gold in two different sports, setting a new world record for the women’s 400 meter sprint and also winning the women’s time trial cycling event. Meanwhile, New Zealand blade runner Liam Malone broke the record previously held by disgraced South African Oscar Pistorius for the 400 meter sprint. It was Malone’s very first Paralympic Games and he went home with two gold medals.
Move beyond watching
We all love to watch amazing athletes in action – but it’s actually a lot more important to get on the move ourselves. Whether you have a physical disability or not, exercise is one of the most powerful keys to good health and an overall sense of wellbeing. As a middle-aged woman who only began regular exercise in the past few years, I can vouch for the fact that exercise taken up at any age can vastly improve your life.
New York City has outstanding, affordable opportunities for anyone who wants to play sports, work out at a gym, or swim. This includes a wide array of adaptive programming and facilities for people with disabilities.
Take advantage and who knows, you might wind up in the Paralympics yourself! In fact, ICS member Manyon Lyons, a familiar friend to everyone in the Brooklyn office, won a Silver Medal for the United States in the 1984 Paralympics discus throw competition. But whether you want to compete, improve your physical and emotional health, or just savor the joy of movement and good company, opportunities are everywhere.
The New York City Parks Department offers any adult with a disability membership to the city’s 36 recreation centers and 12 indoor pools for – get this – just $25 a year! And if you are an ICS member, your membership can be paid for under your plan.
The Parks Department also offers adaptive programming for people with disabilities including aquatics, basketball, bowling, volleyball, tennis, and much more. You can learn about these and other accessible programs offered throughout New York City here. And remember, it’s important to take advantage of these offerings if you want them to continue to be available.
Former ICS staff member Christopher Noel is currently the Accessibility Coordinator for the New York City Parks Department. As a wheelchair user himself, Chris brings first-hand experience to his work and, as he recently told us, to ensure continuing financial support for adaptive programming and equipment, it’s important that people come out and take advantage of it. Chris also wants to hear from New Yorkers with disabilities about their experiences, problems, suggestions and complaints.
“Call my office,” he said, “my role is to make our parks, recreational facilities and beaches more accommodating for people with disabilities and seniors so I don’t mind getting a phone call and calling someone within the borough to expedite a solution to a problem. It’s my job to help make sure people with disabilities can enjoy our parks, rather than going home and not being able to participate.”
So, if you are a person with a disability who has an access problem with a city park, don’t just complain to your neighbor; get in touch with Christopher Noel. Christopher.Noel@parks.nyc.gov or 212-360-3319.
A sad end to the 2016 games
Drawing to a close, the otherwise joy-filled Paralympics was marred when Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, suffered a fatal crash on September 17, becoming the only athlete to die at the games since the Paralympics began in 1960. On the following, final day of the games, his country’s Volleyball team won Iran’s 8th gold medal for the 2016 Paralympics, which was dedicated to Golbarnezhad’s memory.