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There’s No Give-up for Disabled Athletes

Posted October. 31, 2002 22:41,   


It’s not just about winning a gold medal. It’s not about doing it well before a big crowd, either. They say they run to overcome the obstacle within not outside. Three with impaired sight and twelve wheel-chaired people are bracing for a 42,195km uphill battle on Nov. 1, closing day of the Busan Asia Pacific Fespic Games.

It’s far enough for physically-fit people to complete. Yet, they say, ˝We don’t want pity,˝ adding ˝We just want to be treated equally.˝

Three men with impaired sight, who can barely discern vague shapes of objects, are 24-year-old Korean Im Sung-joon, 55-year-old Japanese Hoshina Giyoshi and 42-year-old Kazahstani Setov Jaynola. Among those who will run the course in wheel chair are 34-year-old Korean Lee Bong-ho, 25-year-old Thai Tana Lawatte and 19-year-old New Zealander Nelson Jonathan.

Each of the three man with impaired sight will be guided by four coaches, who will tell him to go `up,` `down,` `right` and `left` by taking turns for every 10km. They will help the players keep their phase by telling them what the road ahead is like. The running coaches are not allowed to run ahead of players and must run in line with them.

Despite the tough conditions, these marathoners are all set to complete the course in less than 3 hours and 30 minutes - the very course South Korean Lee Bong-joo and North Korean Ham Bong-shil finished at 2 hours 14 minutes 4 seconds and at 2 hours 33 minutes and 34 seconds respectively.

The wheel-chaired runners aim to finish at around one and a half hours. ˝We will keep running until the day prejudice against the disabled all disappears.˝

Im is determined to finish the course for his parents who have always been there for him even as he got lost and caused trouble. This is the first time he runs for a full course in an international contest.

He lost his sight when he was a first grader in high school after diagnosed as optic nerve atrophy. At first, he couldn’t believe what happened to him and couldn’t face the world out there. It was a desire to run that brought him into the world in 1999.

There were hard times when he almost gave up facing the poor training conditions for the handicapped. His family encouraged him to continue with their love and support. He doesn’t place any significance on winning a gold medal. ˝I will do my best as a human and athlete,˝ he said in a humble tone.

Lee, who was struck with polio when he was only five, said ˝The 1,575 players attending Busan FG must think the same.˝ Lee won as many as eight gold medals in the 1989 Kobe Asia Pacific FG, but nobody cared when he returned home. This time, he will again run for a society that treats the disabled equally.

Their challenge towards equality and better future, indeed, seem as hard and painful as their lives.