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The Word on the Week

Paralympics 2016

One of the most moving sights of the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games this week was the struggle of the Brazilian Torchbearer. She required a stick to help her walk and with the torch in her other hand made her way across the open space towards the ignition point. The rain had made the ground wet and slippery and she fell in front of the vast stadium of people. A couple of attendants rushed to her aid and helped her up. She had retained her grip on the torch and with stick in the other hand proceeded onwards to light the flame with the cheers of the crowd echoing in her ears.
This encapsulated something of the sheer grit and determination that goes into the making of Paralympic athletes. It was an inspirational moment.
Since the Seoul Games in 1988 the Paralympics have followed the Olympics using the same facilities. Originally it was confined to wheelchair users but it now includes many disabilities. It can be said to have changed societies’ attitude towards physically challenged people. This was seen most dramatically perhaps in China where after the 2010 games there was an increase in hiring people with disability.
Technology has played its part with the advent of the carbon fibre running blade which, when mastered, can propel its owner at amazing speeds. There is the “athletics of prosthetics” where an assortment of aids has opened up many events to their owners. In fact there are three events that have been developed for the Paralympics and are unique to these games.
Of course because it’s the Paralympics this does not mean there is no room for cheating! They have their troubles with competitors overstating their disability to gain advantage. Others fall prey to the temptation of performance enhancing drugs. On the other hand it is wonderful for a runner like Jason Smyth from Derry who has just won his 5th Gold medal having won two at each of the previous two games. A true Olympian!
Whilst winning is the goal competing is the essence of what the games are about. St Paul uses the Games as a metaphor of the Christian life. Having used his considerable powers to engage those he met with the Gospel of Christ he explains his training regime, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified – i.e. disqualified from the rewards (1 Corinthians Chapter 9 verses 25 to 27).
Like the Torchbearer in the opening ceremony we too operate before an unseen multitude who are silently cheering us on to victory. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews Chapter 12 verses 1 – 2). Run to Him and when you have been found by Him – run for Him!