Not All the Gold is in Medals
December 2004 Issue
The nearly 4,000 athletes participating in the Athens Paralympics came from countries small and large, industrial, developing, and third-world. Their equipment, prostheses, and orthoses included everything from the latest technology to what being called "basic" would be an understatement. Of these, athletes from only 75 countries--about 60 percent of the total of 136--won at least one medal.
All the athletes brought hopes and dreams, along with long, rigorous training, to the Games. Obviously, only a small minority were medal winners. What about the others? Did their Paralympic participation still have value for themselves, their countries, and other persons with disabilities?
A competitive spirit--a desire to achieve, to win--is usually deep in the psyche of elite athletes. So, of course, falling short of their goal is a large disappointment. But was the effort still worth it?
Sydney Silver Medalist
For instance, Roderick Green shone during the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, winning a silver medal in the 200m with a time of 23.82 seconds and capturing bronze medals in the 400m with a time of 55.40 seconds and the men's long jump with a distance of 5.81 meters.
Green has been used to winning. He was born with a malformed right foot and leg, and his parents and doctors thought it best to amputate when he was about three years old. Growing up in the small town of West Monroe, Louisiana, Roderick was in the middle of a large family of six brothers and seven sisters, and his parents treated him the same as the rest. Roderick thus felt confident about being able to do athletically what he wanted--and basketball was his passion.
He was a star against able-bodied players and was named a top-ten player in Louisiana and all-conference, even though his poorly fitted prosthesis caused blisters and sores on his residual limb. In 1997, two great events happened. First, he was fitted with a new sports prosthesis with a contoured, flexible socket from Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, 4301 North Classen Blvd, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (He now also wears a sprinter foot from Freedom Innovations, Irvine, California). The second great event was being awarded a four-year basketball scholarship to Oklahoma Christian University in the same city.
Rigorous training and dedicated coaching, plus his own determination and skills, helped lead Green to victory in Sydney. But then at Athens, he tore his right hamstring in the semifinals of the T-44 100m race and came back empty-handed. He is now going through rehab to rebuild that tendon. However, Green says, "It was worth every second I was out on the track, working hard." Not only does Green feel the Paralympics helped him open up to other people and cultures, but that sports benefit people, not only physically, but also emotionally. "Even if they feel down, they get lifted up."
Says Green, "Sometimes people with disabilities feel isolated or they think life is over. Then they see me or another athlete in a magazine, newspaper, or somewhere, and they have hope. They think, Wow! I should get out and be active, and not let amputation be an excuse to hold me back.'" Indeed, Green is a good example that not all the gold is in a medal.