The word inspiration has come a long way in Para sport

Canadian Paralympic Committee

June 02, 2023

Today’s Paralympians more open to being ‘inspirational’


TORONTO – Billy Bridges, a six-time Paralympian in Para ice hockey, remembers when Para athletes used to roll their eyes when the general public called them inspirations because they would see them in a wheelchair or with a prothesis wearing their Team Canada jacket.

In fact, anyone old enough can remember that even in Paralympic circles that was THE word to avoid around athletes.

But with the advent of the information age, the powerful messages from the London 2012 Games and overall increased exposure of Paralympic athletes over recent years, the public is much better informed now about Para sport and that Paralympians are elite athletes. Thus the intent of the word is more genuine.

‘’It used to be more offensive because there was no access to me as an athlete,” said Bridges earlier this year at a ParaTough Cup fireside chat hosted by CBC broadcaster Scott Russell. ‘’Now it would take an easy Google search to see Renée (Foessel) is a world record holder. Today it is coming from a better place.’’

Wheelchair racing legend Jeff Adams, a 13-time Paralympic Games medallist including three gold, said London 2012 was a game changer for the Paralympic Movement. In the UK, the host broadcaster gave the Paralympics equal treatment to its Olympic counterpart in wall-to-wall coverage which turned several athletes into household names. It even showed the lighter side of Para athletes with big production commercials leading into the Games which were broadcast around the world.

‘’London 2012 was one of the seminal moments where the discussion really changed and it changed in a way that allowed disabilities to be talked about,” said Adams.

For younger national team athletes such as Para ice hockey player Dom Cozzolino and sitting volleyball player Nasif Chowdhury, it’s not as big of an issue for them. They just hope it comes from their athleticism and the work they put into being a high performance athlete.

‘’I want to be seen as inspirational because I made a great play on the ice not because I have a disability and am playing sports,” said Cozzolino. ‘’We can be an inspiration to somebody who is going through a tough time, somebody who is having a bad day, or to a youngster who has recently acquired a disability and is finding about the sport for the first time.”

For Chowdhury he’d be pleased to be considered in the same light as his Paralympic heroes.

“I would be pretty honoured to have someone see me that way,” he said. “[Wheelchair basketball player] Bo Hedges got cut eight times from the national team before he made it. He tried out for many years before he got his chance to play. So he’s all about hard work and that’s what I admire about him. For someone to see me the same way is a huge compliment.”

Perhaps Para athletes also realize in today’s world, inspiration is needed more than ever.

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