As the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way. This week, disabled athletes from across Southeast Asia have proven that their competitive drive and love for the nation outweigh their so-called physical limitations.
These men and women have been fighting for their nation's recognition at the 11 th ASEAN Paralympic Games, hosted by the Central Java cities of Surakarta and Semarang. Ahead of today's closing ceremony, Indonesia is assured of being the overall champion with its unassailable lead in the medal stand over its closest rival, Malaysia.
Winning laurels is one thing, but overcoming discrimination, marginalization and public misperception, as well as ingrained stigmas, is another. All Southeast Asian athletes competing in the biennial event, whether they return home empty-handed or with medals, will stand before the world with their heads held high when the Games conclude, as they have shown their mettle and grit.
For Indonesian athletes, the timing of the Games could not be better, as they and 276 million other fellow citizens are preparing to mark the 77 th anniversary of the nation's independence on Aug. 17.
The weeklong Games has indeed been a story of struggle, with the region's athletes having to get in and maintain their top form amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, including rising figures here, so they could compete in the multisport event.
In fact, at least 17 athletes and officials had tested positive for COVID-19 upon their arrival in Surakarta, but tested negative after five days of self-isolation.
Rima Ferdianto, the executive secretary of the Indonesian National Paralympic Organizing Committee (INASPOC), said that Indonesia had followed the international standards to ensure that all involved in the Games, as well as local residents, were safe and protected.
The government gradually started easing mobility restrictions ahead of Idul Fitri, which fell on May 1-2, claiming a relatively low number of new daily infections. Over the last few weeks, however, the nation's caseload has been rising again with the detection of new Omicron subvariants, prompting the government to intensify its booster rollout.
Surakarta Health Agency head Siti Wahyuningsih said all Paralympic athletes underwent regular screenings to prevent the disease's spread, with some athletes even testing daily.
Those who have donned the "red and white" at the Games have surely gone through their own test in life. Indonesian male archer Kholidin, for example, trained for several years to aim with just one arm, following an accident that led to his right arm being amputated in 2016, and uses his teeth to draw his arrows. This technique has worked for Kholidin, who has collected one gold medal, one silver and one bronze in the Para Games.
But Kholidin cannot rely on the sport to survive day to day, so he sells porridge to make a living. There are many people with disabilities who have no access to jobs, simply because nobody gives them the opportunity.
For their indefatigable spirit and hard work, the athletes deserve our respect. Perhaps President Joko Widodo will himself close the ASEAN Para Games to honor their achievements, in a ceremony that Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka has said will be more exciting than the opening ceremony.
However, there is no better reward for the athletes, and disabled people in general, than an environment that embraces them and supports their development.
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