March 17, 2014

Sochi Paralympics fulfilling for local reporter


Sochi, Russia —

Transportation, walkways, building entrances and restrooms were all accessible. The accessibility reached far beyond the city, as well. Earlier in the week, I trekked up to the cross-country skiing course for a full day of races. Transitions into and out of the gondolas was smooth, something I was unaccustomed to at previous ski trails back home.

My final reflection piece regards the volunteer staff. For two weeks, the volunteers worked tirelessly to make the Paralympic experience enjoyable and accommodating. I befriended two volunteers who were from a small mountain town in central Russia. “Very cold back home,” one of them said.

In their early 20s, neither of the guys had seen a wheelchair or an amputee prior to arriving at the Paralympics. They asked questions about disabilities and accessibility and I was more than happy to answer. Though here as a part of a job, I have also treated the trip as an education moment for anyone curious. When people see something new, they want to know more.

Along with the newspaper clippings, a handful of souvenirs, photos and memories, I leave Russia with a strong feeling of hope toward the country. I had to break my own mental barrier of doubting Russia’s ability to properly accommodate the disabled. Sochi is just a speck on the Russian map, but the city serves as a sample size for what can be. 

Eric Gissendanner is a graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh. He interned in the Sports Department of the Press-Republican and also writes for us on a freelance basis. Follow him on Twitter: @Gisser26

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