Perhaps because Paralympians know best what it means to struggle, to have people care in their darkest times, and to turn tragedy into triumph, they are able to touch our hearts and give hope.
We can experience those messages through speeches and broadcast interviews that capture the genuine emotions in their faces and voices. Here are some of the most memorable ones from 2016, which come in at No. 48 in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments.
Fearnley’s interview on Seven
Paralympians want to be remembered first and foremost for their athletic achievements. But as Australia’s Kurt Fearnley told his country’s Paralympic broadcaster Seven after winning silver in the Rio 2016 Paralympic marathon, those victorious days are the easy days.
“Some of the most memorable moments are the hardest moments,” he said as his voice cracked. “They are the things that you’ll eventually become the most proud of.
“Those days that you wake up and you win, they’re awesome; they’re the easy days.
“Those days when you can barely drag yourself out of bed, where you’re in so much pain and discomfort, you’re mentally trying to remind yourself to believe, they’re the tough days and they’re the ones that I’m proud of.”
Marks’ ESPY Award speech
In those difficult times, the people around us are often the ones that help us move forward, as US Sargent Elizabeth Marks reminded us after receiving the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPYs (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award).
“If you’re struggling, if you’re hurting – whether it’s mental or emotional. If ever you think you’re alone: you’re not. If ever you think no one cares: I do.”
She herself had felt the kindness of strangers, supporting her after injury in Iraq in 2010. Marks incurred an injury to both her hips while serving as a combat medic in Iraq and later lung disease that put her on life support, but she was able to recover and qualify for Rio 2016.
“I want to say thank you to my wounded, ill, sick and injured servicemen and women from all over the world. When I came off life support, you sent me messages of encouragement and love and you didn’t even know me,” she said, pausing with emotion.
“I want to say thank you, and I hold you dear to my heart. I will do everything I can to bring home the gold in Rio. We did this,” she said, gesturing at her award, “and anything else from this moment forward, I will consider a testament to your praise, your love and your affection.”
Marks went on to win gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB7 and bronze in the 4x100m medley relay (34 points).
Snyder’s interview on Seven
One of Marks’ teammates, US Navy veteran, Brad Snyder, also had a message of encouragement, which almost reduced Australia’s Seven presenter, Emily Angwin, to tears when she interviewed him after his gold in the 50m freestyle S11.
“In 2011 I laid in a field in Afghanistan and thought that I had died. In my mind, I said goodbye to my mother and I said goodbye to my family and I thought that I would never come back and get to do anything, let alone compete for my country and win medals.
“And so my message to everyone is make the most of every moment because you never know what moment will be your last.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website: https://www.paralympic.org/top-50-moments-2016