Paralympics and Chile: From Sport to Vocation

Chile has sent athletes to the Paralympics since 1992. This year 7 athletes are competing; sadly, most of their countrymen won’t see them as the games are not being covered on National television stations. Luckily, for those around the world who want to watch, but can’t because of local station coverage, the Paralympics has transmitting live many of the events. To watch. go to http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/ and click on the “Live” link to see who is competing now.

Originally, I was going to write about Fransisca Castro, the youngest of the Chilean athletes (14 years old). I had picked her because she is a swimmer and the first Chilean athlete to attend a Paralympics was a swimmer. However, after reading about all the athletes, I decided I wanted to write about Fransisca Mardones, who is competing in tennis singles and doubles. Today she competes in the second round of the doubles.

Fransisca not only plays tennis, but she teaches people with mental disabilities to play back home in Chile. She currently has 40 students with different types of disabilities. Having never heard of her school and knowing how difficult Chile continues to be, I wanted to write about her.

Speaking of how difficult Chile continues to be, Fransisca is actually quite upbeat when asked about it:

What do you have to say about accessibility in Chile?

Truth being told, it has improved a lot. Every day it improves more, but there are a lot of historical buildings in Santiago that simply won’t change. Therefore, there are a lot of difficulties. You have to do a lot of heroic things to move around. However, I believe that in spite of disability issues, people have no excuse not to go out.

I sometimes go to downtown Santiago. I take the metro and get off in La Moneda, where there is no lift. I ask the guards for help, and each of them grab one side of the wheelchair and take me up the stairs.

One day, for example, I had to change currencies. I arrived to the entrace of the building and the only way to get to the counter was by going up some stairs. So, I couldn’t get in. I waved my hands to the guy behind the counter, but he was locked behind the glass and couldn’t get out either. So, I started calling people on the street to ask for favors. I asked one person to hand over my ID to the man at the counter, I asked another one to get the paper that I had to sign from the counter guy. Just like that I bothered other five people, but I got my currency exchange done. You know, one doesn’t achieve anything by getting embittered or complaining about things that will probably never change. You have to go after the solution to your problems.

More about Fransisca here at I Love Chile’s article on her. And, of course, the classifications for Wheelchair Tennis:

The classification rules of the International Federation for Wheelchair Tennis state that athletes with a physical impairment that affects their ability to move around the court and prohibits them to compete equally with able-bodied tennis players are eligible to compete in the sport at the Paralympics.

Classification also groups athletes in classes, defined by the degree to which they are limited in their ability to perform activities within that sport. In Wheelchair Tennis there are two classes, Open and Quad:

Open class is for athletes with an impairment of one or both legs but does not affect their arms or hands.
Quad class athletes have an impairment that affects their arms and legs, which limits their ability to handle the racket and to move their wheelchair compared with Open class athletes. Men and women compete together in the Quad events.

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