Palaro, sports and the physically challenged

Benise P. Balaoing
Rappler intern Benise Balaoing blogs about visually impaired athletes who play in Palarong Pambansa 2012 and her own struggles in sports

LINGAYEN, Pangasinan—In a game of goalball, I found inspiration beyond measure.

Goalball is a game held specifically for the visually impaired. Part of the events for the special games in the Palarong Pambansa 2012, the 3 players of a team attempt to stop their opponents’ ball from entering their goal.

Think of shooting a bowling ball into a soccer goal.

The ball is embedded with bells and the players use the sound of the bells to guide them.

The game on Sunday night, May 6 was pretty good. It ended 13-8 in favor of Western Visayas. But CARAGA put up a good fight; the first set even ended at 5-all.

But what was most inspiring was the athletes’ drive to win. They blocked the ball with their hands, legs, their entire bodies. Both teams went all out to win the game.
They were only too determined to bring home the bacon.

On being “disabled”

I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis when I was 10 years old. I had to wear a back brace to arrest my worsening spinal column. My life was about to change.

I was restricted in many ways. There was a part of my body I couldn’t use. I felt that I had lost it. I felt disabled.

I would go to my orthopedic surgeon and meet amputees and people on crutches and wheelchairs. More than the environment, though, my impairment was rubbed in my face in a real way.

My physical education (PE) activities were limited. I couldn’t run, jump, lift heavy objects, or engage in competitive contact sports. I somehow felt that I wouldn’t be productive in some ways.

More importantly, though, I was saddened because I loved PE.

FINDING INSPIRATION. Author Benise Balaoing found inspiration in goal ball Palarong Pambansa athletes. Julienne Joven.

I loved the feeling of sweating out. I loved how PE was a break from the humdrum of academics. I loved how it refreshed my mind and made me ready once more to tackle complicated problems.

I loved how simple jumping could lift my spirits and express the happiness I felt. I loved the feeling of challenging myself to do better in sprints. It was exhilarating.

But I didn’t have any of those.

Throughout high school, I earned my marks by officiating sports. It was, well, less thrilling than the actual play.

When college rolled in, I had a whole range of PE classes to choose from, some of which weren’t too harsh for my condition. I moved again.

I studied—really studied—PE in college. I would go to my room and practice my PE till I did my movements perfectly. I loved it so much that I even let opportunities pass just for PE.

Once, my editor called to ask me to cover a rally. I said no—I had to rehearse for my PE midterms.

Who the heck practices for PE midterms?

Okay, a handful of others did, too. But I wasn’t doing it for the grade. I was doing it for myself. I was thankful that I had a valid reason to remove my brace and move my body.

Taken for granted

Hellen Keller once noted that “only the deaf appreciate the hearing, only the blind realize the manifold blessing that lie in sight.” I have observed that the same applies to able-bodied and physically challenged people.

Those who have not suffered physical impairments do not oftentimes fully utilize their body’s capabilities. Some able-bodied people don’t even bother to take a brisk morning walk. They see exercise as a burden, not as a key to strengthen their minds and bodies.

On the day that I get out of my brace, I will run a marathon. I will get myself into all kinds of sports—yoga, rock climbing, trekking, the list goes on. I would love to finally do the things I’ve been deprived of doing for so long.

We, the physically challenged, love our bodies. We have impairments, yes, and that makes us appreciate all our faculties all the more.

We know the best way to take care of their bodies is to exercise. But because we don’t have “complete” bodies, we make the most out of every opportunity to nourish that which we have left.

And in the process, some of us have shown what the human spirit could accomplish—if only we push ourselves to our limits and set our minds and hearts on the prize.

This is what has driven our Palaro special athletes to shine in the Athens Special Olympics. This was what pushed Palarong Pambansa 2009 gold medalist Unico Anselmo to give his best shot, even if he had no legs. This is what made Roger Tapia, who is missing an arm, beat able-bodied athletes in the 2008 Palarong Pambansa.

This was also what made life easier for Western Visayas’ goalball coach. They were last year’s goalball first runner-ups as well.

Despite training only a couple of hours per day, this region produces excellent goalball athletes.

Nasa sa kanila na kasi iyon,” said their coach. “Sa lower meets pa lang, may drive na silang manalo (It’s all up to the athletes. They have the drive to win even in the lowest of meets).” –