The definitions of disability and that of “person with disabilities” are the expression of the fundamental principles on which the UN Convention is based and, therefore, that “people must be enabled to live, choose, participate, removing the obstacles that prevent them from doing so and promoting solutions that allow them to participate as well as others”. Disability, therefore, can be defined as the personal condition of those who, following one or more impairments, have a reduced ability to interact with the social environment compared to what is considered the norm, therefore they are less autonomous in carrying out daily activities and often at a disadvantage in participating in social life. The “need” of the person with disabilities is above all to find an environmental context suitable to “reduce” his disability, because it is the context that can make the difference between feeling or not feeling disabled, between allowing or not “participation” of the subject to the proposed activities, whatever they are. In short, an accessible environmental context that also applies to sport and Olympic competitions.
The modern Paralympics have their origins in 1948, when the German neurosurgeon Ludwig Guttmann, who became director of the Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injury Center in England at the end of World War II, in the year of the London Olympics, inaugurated the first games for disabled people who suffered from myelosis. Fourteen men and two women competed in the discipline of archery. The Stoke Mandeville Games, as they were called, first became international in 1952 when a Dutch delegation also attended.
The modern Paralympics were born in the 1960 edition, with the Rome edition. This was the first time in history that the Olympic and Paralympic Games took place in the same city. On September 8, in the aquacetosa stadium, 400 wheelchair-bound athletes, representing 23 countries, paraded in front of 5,000 spectators. The largest delegation was the Italian one. Among the disciplines that were practiced there were billiards, javelin throw, fencing, basketball, table tennis and archery. Italy won 28 gold, 30 silver and 24 bronze medals. The Summer Paralympic Games are held regularly in the same city that has hosted the Olympics since 1988.
Paralympic athletes are those athletes who challenge their physical limits by achieving excellent results in many sports. There are many who have been able to distinguish themselves in the history of sport and among these we find Alex Zanardi. Zanardi was an Italian driver, but during a race, back in September 2001, he had a very serious accident on the track, after having lost control of his car. That accident cost him dearly: in fact, both his legs were amputated. Despite the tragedy that hit him, Zanardi decided that the time had not yet come to give up sport and his passion. Thus, after several years, he returned to competing, achieving various successes in other sport disciplines. And his return to the world of sport was known even more than his accident itself. In 2012 Zanardi participated in the London Paralympics with his handbike, accomplishing an extraordinary feat by winning the gold medal and climbing to the top step of the podium for the first time in his entire sports career.
Another extraordinary feat achieved by Zanardi dates back to a few years after the Paralympics. We are talking about October 12, 2014 when, after months of hard training, he participated in Hawaii in the most important “Ironman” race in the world. The race involved covering 3.8 kilometers swimming, 180 kilometers with the handbike and 42 kilometers with the Olympic wheelchair. Alex Zanardi managed to finish this grueling race in less than 10 hours.
Called by all “Bebe”, Beatrice Vio is one of the most famous and influential Italian Paralympic athletes. She has practiced wheelchair fencing since the age of 5 and since 2011 she has won all the most important fencing tournaments, from National Championships to Europeans and at the World Cup. Struck by a lightning meningitis, the doctors were forced to first amputate both her legs and forearms. After numerous interventions and treatments, Bebe returned to school and to train, competing from her wheelchair and in 2010 after receiving the prostheses for fencing developed by the Paralympic Committee and the Budrio Prosthesis Center, she returned to the platform. She has been the first athlete in the world to compete with prosthetic all four limbs.
In 2015 Bebe won the gold medal at the Eger World Championships in individual foil, and in 2016 she won the European title at the European Championships in Casale Monferrato. The most incredible results came just that year when at the XV Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro she won the gold medal in the individual test against the Chinese Zhou Jingjing for 15-7. On September 16, 2016, she won the bronze medal in the team test, together with her teammates Loredana Trigilia and Andreea Mogos.
Zanardi and Vio are only two of the names that have written the story of the sport and they are the greatest testimony that, despite the obstacles in life, everybody with force and determination can still pursue their dreams. These two athletes represent a model to follow.