One word for Paralympic Games: Amazing

TOKYO (News4usonline) – I had no idea what I was in store for when I attended and covered the Paralympics Games as a photographer in Tokyo.

After three days of quarantine in a hotel after arriving, I was ready to get out and start shooting all these events. On the afternoon of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, I headed over to Tokyo Olympic Stadium for a photo briefing.

I scanned the room where hundreds of photographers lined up from around the world and it was beyond impressive. Later, all the photographers walked into the stadium and we set up at our photo positions with anticipation building as the Tokyo sun was setting.

The Opening Ceremony was spectacular. To witness all the countries’ athletes entering the parade, to see the faces of the athletes beaming with excitement as they were introduced, was truly one of the most magical experiences I am proud to have been a part of.

I did not know I was in store for me the following day. I arrived early at Tokyo Aquatics Center, where we were briefed and handed out our photo positions. I chose the photo position closest to the start blocks knowing. I did this because I like up-close emotional photography of the athletes.

Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

In choosing this spot, I was locked in. That’s because that particular photo position was directly in front of the TV cameras. Translation: You couldn’t move until the entire event was done and complete. So forget about going to get water or taking a bathroom break. And now way to exit the building.

I was not prepared for what happened next.

As the evening started the athletes were introduced for each event, the piped-in cheers hyped up the excitement for the races. I photographed the swimmers as they entered the pool deck and as they took off their sweats, revealing their bathing suits and their bodies.

To be honest, I don’t have any disabled friends. I was shocked. After a while, I found myself saddened. I watched people who were missing limbs, many missing multiple limbs, the struggle to get out of wheelchairs, being helped into the pool or hoping over to the start blocks.

I found myself with a knot in my throat and started to cry. I felt so bad. It was gut-wrenching for me. I wanted to leave. I was so uncomfortable I wanted to get out of there. But, I couldn’t. I was locked into my photo position. I was locked into facing an unfamiliar discomfort.

I love sports. I love athletes. But this was an entirely different level of adoration I felt. I put my camera down and just watched. I watched these athletes, smile, excited to swim their hearts out and finish out of breath and look up at the time clock for their times and results.

I watched their strength, their mental fortitude, their physical strength to swim these races, the happiness of finishing first and the disappointment of not.

Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

I quickly realized through the night that I was the one with a hang-up. I was the one with a roadblock. As I look back through my photos from the first week, I noticed I shot the athletes and their healthy bodies. I fought the inner struggle not to exploit their disabilities, rather to photograph their beauty and their strengths.

As the days went on, covering a range of sports ranging from equestrian, track and field, rowing, triathlon, fencing, wheelchair tennis to wheelchair basketball, I adapted. I found myself in awe of all of these athletes.

The mental strength these athletes have to pursue their dreams is amazing! Years of training awarded them the opportunity to participate in the Paralympic among the few elite athletes from around the globe. I wondered how the athletes not able to see be able to swim in a straight line? I wondered how a person with one leg can ride a bike? I wondered how a person with one arm can ride a bike?

I also wondered how a person with two blades as legs can run and high jump,  how an individual can control a wheelchair and shoots a basketball? I was amazed.

I was honored to be part of the Paralympic Games. Some of the highlights included watching Ally Seely cross that finish line for her second gold medal in the Paratriathlon. I saw Jamal Hill sprinting in the 50m freestyle to hang a bronze medal around his neck.

Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

There was Brazil’s Gabriel Geraldo dos Santos swimming to a gold medal in the Men’s 50 backstroke and Men’s 200  freestyle S2 race and collect a silver medal in the men’s 100 backstroke S2.

The colorful Roderick Townsend reached a new world record in the high jump and won a silver medal in the long jump. Matt Scott, who is a beast on the basketball court, dominated his opponents with his monster athleticism, strength, and speed.

Jessica Long has 29 medals from five Paralympic Games and has over 50 world titles. Anastasia Pagonis swam her way to a gold medal in the 400 freestyle S11 and a bronze in the 200 IM. Yui Kamiji powered the tennis court with gold in women’s singles and a bronze in women’s doubles.

I could continue to list the achievements of these spectacular athletes. They’re all wonderful. They are all an inspiration to all people. They depict the true meaning of an athlete, someone who is completely committed to their sport, physically and mentally, training for years for that 10-second race or that match on the tennis court.

I am one hundred percent grateful to have witnessed these games and to have learned more about the Para-Sports community. I hope there is some way that I can contribute to getting more traction for these sports to have more presence in the United States.

Featured Image Caption: Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline

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