By Cosmas Okoli
A Neurosurgeon German refugee in Britain during the Second World War, pushed for a radical change in the way spinal cord injury patients were being treated.
He succeeded and revolutionized treatment and life chances for those with spinal injuries. He organized the first Stoke Mandeville Games which led to today’s Paralympic games. Sir Ludwig Guttmann is the father of Paralympic Games.
His vision, courage and tenacity have today, given millions of persons with disabilities all over the world an opportunity to live life to the full.
Nigerians with disabilities have taken advantage of this opportunity to prove that there are abilities in disability despite the lack of level playing field and legal frame work to protect their rights.
Nigeria has signed and ratified the United Nation’s convention on the right of persons with disabilities, but is yet to domesticate it, even when the domestication of the convention is only a stroke of the presidential pen away from becoming a reality.
Nigerians with disabilities have continued to push themselves individually and collectively to the limit, training in various sports in the most difficult conditions to become world class athletes.
At the ongoing London 2012 Paralympic games, Nigerian athletes with disabilities have won 4 gold, 5 silver and 1 bronze medals, placing Nigeria at the 13th position, on the medal table as at 3rd September 2012, half way into the games.
And I express my appreciation to Dr. Yinka Coker and others who worked so hard to make sports for the disabled a reality in Nigeria.
Paralympics have given humanity an opportunity to push the limits of human capacity to adapt as evident in the stunning performances of disabled athletes in various sporting events.
Imagine an athlete without hands at all, swimming faster than others with hands; an athlete without hands who plays table tennis with his mouth, beating an athlete playing with two hands.
In another instance, an athlete without hands at all but plays archery with his leg, chin and shoulder, beat other athletes playing with hands.
These athletes are living life to the full. They have risen above their disabilities, to live very productive lives. These are persons with disabilities whose lives inspire and challenge all they come in contact with. They remind us all that no one should be written off as long as there is life.
Their stunning performances are products of personal determination, indomitable spirit and will power, love and care from their families, neighbours and their governments.
These are people you will never find on the street as beggars no matter what. Did I hear someone say, this could be an instrument that can get rid of beggars with disabilities from our streets? You are absolutely right; Paralympics or sports can be an effective instrument to take persons with disabilities off the streets into productive sector of our economy. Through their exploits they will become role models for the younger generation
I remember those early days of our struggle to give Paralympics the recognition it deserves in Nigeria, then we had very few persons with disabilities who were into sports and thus we were forced to scout for athletes on the streets.
We were able to get some street beggars to join us, and I am proud to say that none of them ever went back to the streets as beggars.
Sports give athletes powerful self esteem, confidence and courage, and these are attributes lacking among street beggars.
Sports have brought out redundant men and women with disabilities from various homes and villages in Nigeria, giving them an opportunity to explore and rediscover themselves and thus become productive and independent.