By Ros Dumlao
“Why are you stressed? Don’t be stressed. You’re at the Paralympic Games!”
I needed that reality check.
I was sitting at a Wi-Fi haven in the Athletes’ Village, typing a story under deadline. My co-worker was sitting across from me, talking, talking, talking.
I snapped back: “I know.”
But as much as I didn’t want to admit it, he was right.
Why was I acting like I didn’t want to be in Rio?
I was living my dream. Four years ago, I sat in front of my laptop and got chills watching British Paralympian Jonnie Peacock win the 100m. The crowd at London 2012 erupted.
I wanted to be inside that stadium, not at home watching from a 13-inch Macbook screen.
I lived that moment in September.
I joined the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in May 2015 as an editorial coordinator and never thought Rio 2016 would come so quickly. During the Paralympics Games, my role was basically a sports reporter for our website Paralympic.org. I was responsible for covering certain competitions each day and also digging for feature stories.
Every bit of emotion I had felt when watching any Olympic or Paralympic Games from home came to life in Rio.
I was tearing up at things I didn’t know I’d tear up about — even during the Paralympic Opening Ceremony.
As I sat inside the Maracana Stadium for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, I wondered how it would standout from its Olympic counterpart.
Then the lights dimmed, and a video of the IPC President Sir Philip Craven (a former British wheelchair basketball player) played, showing his journey from his home in Manchester to Rio. It was humorously brilliant.
Then began the countdown in Portuguese, and my heart started racing. At zero, a man in a wheelchair – who turned out to be extreme wheelchair athlete Aaron Wheelz – rode down a mega ramp and flew through a mega “zero” to complete the countdown. Fireworks went off in unison. My adrenaline was at an all-time high.
In those opening moments, you got an idea of what the Paralympics is about, which I wrote about here.
Now, as a friend of mine put it, Brazil is a place with real problems that are faced by real people every single day.
And despite it all, there was a beauty that shined about the country during the Paralympics.
Brazilians are some of the most prideful and down-to-earth people I’ve encountered. If Brazil was competing, you knew the venue would be packed and noisy. When music played to kill time, you knew Brazilians would be dancing.
I remember running through the Olympic Park toward the Aquatics Stadium to watch Brazilian favorite Daniel Dias – who has been likened to Michael Phelps of Para swimming – race. I wasn’t going to make it. But less than 1km away, I heard a roar coming from the direction of the swimming venue. People in the Olympic Park stopped and began talking in Portuguese. All I could understand was “Dias?” “Dias.” “Si?” “Si.”
Seeing Brazilian fans get excited about Para sports and their own athletes made me tear up a bit.
Watching the athletes compete for something they had trained four long years for, and see it culminate to gold, or even less, made me tear up.
For some reason, I couldn’t hold back. Actually, I didn’t try.
Of course when I worked, I needed to. I finally got to ask the questions and write the stories that had pondered my mind for years. I got to write about the emotions captured in the competition venues, and describe the atmosphere to readers to help them feel like there were there.
It was overwhelming and yes, frustrating at times. I worried how I would get from one venue covering wheelchair basketball to the Athletes' Village, about a 10-30 minute commute depending on traffic, for an athlete interview. I did struggle with the language barrier and eating and sleeping properly. But those are expected, and there is something about working with the teams behind the teams that cancels the stress out.
I can’t fully sum up what an amazing experience Rio was. From working the Paralympics, to witnessing emotional sporting moments and learning about a new culture – this is one I will cherish forever.
Ros Dumlao works in the communications and media department at the International Paralympic Committee in Germany. She is an Illinois College of Media ’12 alumna. View photos from her experience here.