Saturday, October 04, 2008

¨There is no such thing as a handicap¨

Heba Said , one of Egypt´s Paralympics gold medalists, and a Zagazig native is being profiled by Michael Slackman and Mona al Naggar in today´s New York Times. At the time i wrote about the early medalists in the Paralympics in Beijing,medals continued to come like magnets all through the games , and the final toll was 12 medals, four golds, four silver and four bronze medals, making Egypt the 29th in the overall standings of the games.

They returned to a heroes welcome, or so it would seem when recievied by the first Lady and Gamal Mubarak. In the long run, maybe their success will have an impact, but there are still very much to wish for, in terms of people´s attitudes, heroine or no heroine, she still has to live her daily life fighting ignorance and prejudice.

HEBA SAID AHMED pulled her car up to the curb. “No parking here,” a police officer shouted. “But it’s a handicap car,” she said softly, motioning to her wheelchair in the back seat. The officer insisted that she park down the block.

A few minutes later, she had made it from her car, hauled herself on crutches down a flight of steps into a largely empty park when a man tried to stop her. “Members only today,” he said, not even asking if she was a member. She was not, but, exasperated, she said, “I am Heba Said, champion for Egypt.”

The man had no idea what she was talking about, and kept telling her to leave.

She was not raised within the family as any other child, so the first reality check, came in school, were she was told by her teacher that if she couldn´t stand up, this was no place for her. She was placed in a class room on the fifth floor for the first four years, when her father first pleaded with the headmaster to let her be in a first floor classroom, when pleading to common sense ended in vain, he used to carry her to class every day.

and still she says:

“I think there has to be a bit of struggle in your life,” she said. “It strengthens you. It builds character.”

She was always encouraged to do well in school and graduated from Zagazig University with a degree in psychology, it was in her teens that she began with sports and soon the medals started coming, and they´ve never stopped since.

She´s most likely to end her sporting career, while she´s on top, being a double paralympics gold medalists and search for other challenges in life, like having a family, and bring her children up to become champions.

What really lingers on in my mind in reading about Heba is this simple sentence, that tells more about us and the restraints, limits and prejudice that exists, Heba is way ahead of us, and she´s a true role model for all of us.

“THERE is no such thing as a handicap,” she said. “A handicap is in your thinking, or in your heart.”

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