For this year’s Haitian Paralympic competitors, preparing and experiencing the games came with preparation beyond the fields. This year will mark only the second time that Haiti has been represented at the Paralympic Games. At this year’s games, three athletes had the privilege of representing their country and standing for something much bigger than athletics.
Though about 10% of Haitians have a disability, there is still much social exclusion within the country. A campaign called “The Dream” has been working tirelessly to prepare this year’s team of disabled athletes for the Paralympic Games. “The Dream,” an international campaign, began in the United Kingdom in hopes of raising support for a team of Haitian athletes to participate in the 2012 Paralympics. “The Dream” states that their goals are to: “Help fight the stigma associated with people with disability, help build support for Haitian communities to provide support and services to people with disability, provide infrastructure for long-term sporting activity for people with disability in Haiti, encourage the international community to better respond to the needs of people with disability in the developing world, and inspire people all over the world, especially those with disability.” The coaches of this year’s team say they aim to expand Haiti’s Paralympic team to 20 athletes for the Rio 2016 Games.
All three Haitian athletes in this year’s Paralympic Games had incredible stories of courage and perseverance. Paralympic competition holds specific classifications, meaning these competitors are held to specific requirements.For hand-cyclist Leon Gaisli, the path to the Paralympics seemed impossible. After the 2010 earthquake, he was left paralyzed. But after receiving a “rough rider” wheelchair from the Walkabout Foundation, who has partnered with “The Dream” campaign, Gaisli was able to train and, eventually, compete in this year’s Paralympics.
Josue Cajuste, disabled from birth, was bullied throughout his life. He struggled as a child, being portrayed as an outcast because of his disability. Beginning athletic competition through participating in amputee football, he eventually was introduced to javelin and shot put. At this year’s games he competed in shot put and javelin F42.
Nephtalie Jean Louise, who competed in javelin and discus F54 events, had polio when she was only eight months old, damaging her leg for life. She pushed herself as she grew, and after meeting the president of Haiti’s Paralympic committee in 2006 she began powerlifting. In 2008, Louise was the only Haitian to go to the Beijing Games, only to discover she had exceeded her competition weight. But that didn’t bring her down and she continued to train, successfully competing in this year’s London Games.
This team longed for much more than winning medals. They longed to inspire people with disabilities, hoping to demonstrate that having a disability doesn’t make you incapable of pursuing your dreams. In an article in the Telegraph, written by Nephtalie Jean-Louis herself, she said, “I would like to have a medal, preferably gold. But most importantly, I want to change the way they treat people with disabilities in my country, to help them, to give them motivation, to help them realize their dreams, so they will be treated differently.”
At this year’s Paraylmpic Games, they did just that!