Ever since the very first Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens, Greece, the world has found unity in an event where athletes can represent their individual nations with pride and dignity. We have all bore witness to the famous lighting of the torch in the opening ceremonies, followed by days of intense competition between athletes who are cheered on by their home countries with roaring energy.
However, not as much light had been given to the Paralympic Games, equally as thrilling and competitive, until recently.
Students were able to attend a screening of the 2020 documentary “Rising Phoenix” in the Connelly Cinema on Tuesday, Sept. 14, which puts the Paralympic Games and the strength of individuals with disabilities in a whole new light. Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, the documentary focuses on the journeys of nine different Paralympic athletes and the struggles they endured to become the stars they truly are.
In the film, viewers were introduced to athletes of varying disabilities, including an archer with no arms, a swimmer with one leg and a man who runs on prosthetic blades, among others. As one of the students in attendance, my eyes welled up multiple times as a result of the athletes’ stories of resilience and adversity.
With exhilarating footage of the athletes shunning their disabilities in front of their family, friends and countries, viewers were taken to the 2012 London Games, at which Stephen Hawking gave a speech of inspiration in the welcoming ceremony that sends chills down one’s spine. The Paralympic Games had been looking forward to the event’s success that summer so much that when the Olympic Games had finished, billboards were put up around London thanking the Olympics “for the warm-up.” The Paralympics had truly become a powerful event for all.
The film then moves forward in time to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, which one could describe as almost disastrous for Paralympic athletes. Due to a lack of funding and political support for the Paralympic Games in Rio, former Chief Executive of the International Olympic Committee, Xavier Gonzalez, and IPC president Andrew Parsons had to gather all of the funds that they could to still put the event together.
Though the athletes experienced emotional turbulence in not knowing whether or not they would be able to compete due to a lack of preparation for the Paralympic Games, they ended up getting the Games in and proving that they can achieve the impossible.
The footage and interviews describe Soviet Russia’s refusal to host the Paralympic Games as well as the start of the Paralympics themself, beginning in 1948 with British veterans of World War II.
It is safe to say that Bonhôte and Ettedgui didn’t just make an inspirational film about how these athletes can achieve “the impossible,” but they also provided a revolutionary insight into what these games mean for the athletes’ families and their countries.
Freshman Matt Vercelli shared his opinions on the documentary and its impact.
“I think the film was very good and very empowering because it opened up my eyes even more to people with disabilities and how they are just like other people in society,” Vercelli said. “Whether you have family members with disabilities or not, you will learn more about the power of people with disabilities through the film and I think it’s a great one to show students.”
It is safe to say that students who were able to attend the screening of “Rising Phoenix” weren’t just drawn in by the amazing interviews and footage, but also moved to encourage disabled athletes to keep pushing through adversity and show the world what they can do.
“Rising Phoenix” was released on Aug. 26, 2020 on Netflix and is still able to be viewed on the streaming platform.