Friday, February 21, 2014

Exhilrating inspiration

Friday, February 21, 2014 - The Malay Mail

A LINK sent by a friend titled “Humanity in sports restored. A rare but beautiful thing” prompted me to write my own experience to underline how sports cuts through all barriers and is indeed a beautiful thing.
Make it a point to watch the link at http://ifi tnessstudio. net/humanity-sports-restoredrare-beautiful-thing/ to understand better.
If it does not make you shed a tear, I don’t know what will.
Many of us take sports for granted, especially in Malaysia, where athletes are a pampered lot who demand so many things but in the end, the results are far from satisfactory.
Never mind not winning honours, but the eff ort put in by the athletes is far from their best.
One only has to take a look at the physically challenged athletes to really appreciate all the goodness the able athletes have at their disposal.
It was the 20th Deaflympics in Melbourne in 2005 that changed my entire outlook on life.
I had covered the SEA, Asian and Olympics Games and they all gave me moments to remember and cherish. But it was the Deafl ympics that gave me moments which make me sad whenever I recall them.
When I was given the opportunity to cover the Games, my fellow sports journalists, friends and even a former sports editor who was one of my mentors laughed at me.
“Of all the Games you are going to cover a Deaflympics! What do you hope to achieve from covering it?” they asked.
But when I returned from Melbourne, I had the last laugh. But they still could not understand my joy of having covered the Games. What they did not know was that they had missed a lifetime opportunity to experience something beautiful that would have make them look at life differently.
Armed with a sign language book I arrived in Melbourne with the Malaysian contingent of 13 athletes who were competing in athletics, badminton, swimming and tenpin bowling.
I followed the Malaysian contingent to training that evening. When we boarded the bus, there were already athletes and coaches from various nations on it. The moment the Malaysian athletes entered, everyone started signing and despite the different nationalities, they could all communicate.
I stood in awe and was a little embarrassed as I was left out of the conversation and laughter. But it was a sight to behold as there was no language barrier amongst the athletes.
There was more to come. At the opening ceremony at the Olympic Park Stadium, the celebration kicked off with a colourful parade of over 3,600 athletes from 85 countries.
While I was enjoying the spectacular opening ceremony from the media room, I noticed outside the room, a small group of people seated in pairs at tables, facing each other and holding hands. Curious, I went out f o r a closer look.
They were actually following the opening ceremony, speeches, songs, dances, the parade and all and the smiles on their faces showed they were having the time of their lives.
I moved closer and saw that the group was blind. A lady approached me and asked if she could help. I asked her who were these people were and what was going on.
She replied: “They are not only deaf and blind, but also speech impaired. They are a very special group here. We brought them here to experience the opening ceremony of the Games. And mind you, they are following the proceedings just like you and me.”
How, I asked.
“See the balloons they holding close to their chests? These balloons translate the vibrations from the music played so they can follow the songs. And the persons holding their hands, who are able people, translate the proceedings on the fi eld, the speeches, the songs and atmosphere, through a special method.”
I just stood there for a good half hour watching them and thinking how blessed we able people were and at the same time feeling good that the group could still experience everything despite their disabilities.
The lady I spoke to was a professor at a university in Melbourne who specialised in training volunteers to help these special people.
And when I started to attend the events of the Games, there were more moments that touched me when I saw the grit and determination shown by the deaf athletes who competed as if there was no tomorrow and their life depended on the outcome. And the joy on their faces when they triumphed was something money cannot buy.
If only our able athletes could do the same. It may be too much to ask, but I hope at least those who read this article will make a difference in the future.
TONY MARIADASS has 35 years
of experience in sports journalism
and is passionate about Malaysian
sports. He can be reached at Twitter
handle: @tmariadass

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