Medals, records and on-field performances are ways Para athletes can inspire and excite the world. But even more, it is what they do off the field that can have a stronger impact on the Paralympic Movement.
And that is why the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) athlete education programme Proud Paralympian and IPC Athletes’ Council are key resources to empower Para athletes beyond the field of play. This year was significant for both, as it saw the re-launch of the Proud Paralympian and a record number of candidates running for IPC Athletes’ Council, marking No. 44 in the Top 50 Moments of 2016.
The 2016 Paralympic Games was a perfect setting to inform and engage with athletes about Proud Paralympian, as thousands of Para athletes from around the world gathered in Rio de Janiero.
The programme is made for athletes, with the involvement of athletes and aims to empower them by providing knowledge and resources that help them develop during and after their sporting career. This is done around ‘know it’, ‘live it’, ‘share it’, three areas which encourage athletes to engage with the Paralympic values, consider their post-sport careers, address topics such as anti-doping and use social and traditional media to share their stories.
“I think it is very important that athletes learn more about the Movement and understand the meaning behind the Paralympic values,” said former Brazilian wheelchair tennis player Samantha Bullock.
“Athletes will gain a broader understanding of the Movement and especially the role that they can play in promoting Paralympic sport and the underpinning values.”
Proud Paralympian ambassadors – US swimmer Illeana Rodriguez, Polish alpine skiers Piotr Marek, Mexico’s Arly Velasquez, Japanese Nordic skier Miki Matheson and her compatriot Eri Yamamoto - engaged with athletes in Rio, helping them dig deeper about what it means to be a “Proud Paralympian.”
Athletes would share their personal stories, talk about why it is important to obey the rules of fair-play, to be role models and even have a plan after their sporting careers.
“Every day they shared lovely stories on why they are here in Rio, what are their goals, how they got their impairments. Some were born with their impairments and some got their impairments from accidents. They all differed,” Marek said. “And then after that, I would ask them, ‘Well what makes you a Proud Paralympian?’ That question is like a trigger for them to express themselves.”
They had the chance to play games, receive careers advice, learn about the Paralympic Movement, and most importantly, engage with and vote in the Athletes’ Council elections.
This year, a record 22 candidates ran for the six available positions, showcasing how more and more athletes are wanting to get involved in the Movement beyond the field of play.
As the liaison between IPC decision-makers and Paralympic athletes, the IPC Athletes’ Council works to provide effective input into decision-making at all levels of the organisation.
Dutch sitting volleyball player Elvira Stinissen; Canadian swimmer Chelsey Gotell; British cyclist Dame Sarah Storey; Turkish archer Gizem Girismen; US cyclist Monica Bascio; and Australian wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley were elected.
“I hope to make a difference for Para athletes today and tomorrow and encourage athlete leaders to become more active in the Paralympic Movement,” Girismen said.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.