On to the Paralympics…

The Rio Olympics are over—now on to the Paralympics which start September 7. I honestly did not know anything about the Paralympic movement prior to moving to Atlanta in 1996 to work on the Olympic Games coverage. The next thing you know, I was Executive in Charge of Production for “Triumph of the Human Spirit: The Story of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games” Official Commemorative Video.

Another production company had started work on a documentary about the Paralympics and run out of money. I had met some of the Paralympics marketing people who had invited me to many of the events and I had met some of the athletes and realized what a great TV it all was. If you’ve seen any of Bud Greenspan’s famous documentaries on the Olympics, you understand a little about what “triumph of the human spirit” is —but the Paralympics is one step beyond, inspiration squared.

I was captivated by the ’96 Paralympics cheeky tag line—“What’s Your Excuse”—used with posters like the blind runner who said, “I had a seeing eye dog once, but he couldn’t keep up.” Or, the one legged high jumper, who uses his one leg to “kick ass.” Or, the sprinter on artificial legs who can do the 100 meters in ten seconds. These are very much elite world class athletes who focus on their abilities, not disability. The “para” in Paralympics is an acronym for “parallel” not “paralyzed”.

At any rate, a lot of terrific footage had been gathered during the 1996 Paralympics and someone had to weave it all together. I had no problem writing the script, but I left it to Krista Mart (who later left to join ABC News) to log all the hours and hours of footage and find the very best of it.

The obvious choice for our narrator/host of the documentary had to be Christopher Reeve. He had been paralyzed the year before. I actually had some argument with some unnamed officials who felt Christopher Reeve was not an inspirational choice. This was really before he became an icon for the disabled as obvious as it seems now. I ended up having to work with “Superman” more closely than I had expected because I had written a lot of long, flowery sentences and with his respirator, he was limited to speaking in seven second bursts at the time of the recording. He found the Paralympic athletes as inspiring as I did.

What I saw from Christopher Reeve is what I saw from many of the athletes we profiled. They all faced great adversity and at a point when many of us might have decided to quit, they faced every challenge with courage turning potential tragedy into triumph.  I remember taking my young daughter to meet some of the wheelchair athletes, and she happened to meet the fastest woman on two wheels. My daughter in her childhood innocence asked the Paralympian if she could try out her wheelchair. Without a thought, the athlete hopped out of the chair on to the ground and let her give it a spin. The Paralympics is not a pity party–instead you see the people who are the best in the world at what they do compete at the highest level.

When 4,350 athletes from 160 nations compete in the 22 sports for the Rio Paralympics, we shouldn’t think of them as victims of disease, war casualties, accidents or birth defects—no victims in Rio, only victors.

The logo of the Atlanta Paralympics was a broken star—a reminder that a broken star can shine as bright as any other.