"I think the biggest problem you get as an athlete with a disability is that people sometimes do not even know that there is such a thing as Para sports"
The future looks bright for Austria’s next generation of Paralympic talent after a fun-filled ‘Talent Days 2019’ went beyond expectations.
The Austrian Paralympic Committee launched their pioneer project in mid-June and early July, with the aim to encourage children from 8-18 with a physical or vision impairment to play sports.
The event not only attracted children with a disability, but their classmates without a disability as well, to try Para sports.
More than 250 children and teenagers participated during the Talent Days held in Vienna and then Salzburg, with videos available on YouTube.
Paralympic and world champions such as German sprinter Heinrich Popow; and world champion snowboarder and PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games silver medallist Patrick Mayrhofer were among the high-profile athletes engaging with the children.
“Success was mostly seen in their faces that the children were totally motivated, they were sweating and having fun,” Mayrhofer said.
Children tried athletics, archery, badminton, cycling, rowing, swimming, wheelchair tennis, table tennis and wheelchair basketball.
The activity stations were organised by the national sport federations who provided the necessary equipment and supplied information on local clubs where to practice the sport.
Many participants tried new sports for the first time, and some came with the goal to show their talent and compete against the high-performance athletes as well, such as wheelchair racer Thomas Geierspichler, track athlete Gunther Matzinger, cyclist Walter Ablinger and swimmer Andreas Onea.
“I think the biggest problem you get as an athlete with a disability is that people sometimes do not even know that there is such a thing as Para sports,” said Austrian rower David Erkinger.
“If you start something like at a talent identification camp and can watch it, then you learn the various sports,” he added.
Paralympic and Worlds athletics medallist Natalija Eder agreed:
“I think it’s true in every sport, the sooner you start, the better it is because as a kid it’s much better and easier to learn, and that’s why I think it is really important to introduce children to sport as early as possible and that children enjoy themselves.”
Ottobock provided participants with sport prothesis, while children without an impairment were able to test their athletic skills in a wheelchair.
At the end of each day, participants were awarded with medals to give a taste of the atmosphere at a Paralympic Games.
Marion, a vision impaired participant, was inspired after one day:
“I do athletics myself and I have made a goal that in 2024, I want to join the Paralympics in Paris.”