Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Confidence keeps Paralympic riders going for higher goals

Born without arms due to thalidomide damage, German rider Bettina Eistel rode amazingly with horse Fabuleux 5 at the Beijing Paralympic equestrian venue in Hong Kong's Shatin and took a bronze.

Eistel, born in 1961, controls the reins with both her mouth and her toes and has established dominance over the horse. The bronze came from Grade III Individual Dressage contest in the on-going Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.

In 2004 Athens Paralympics, Eistel won two silver and a bronze medals.

Eistel is one of the many Para-Equestrian athletes trying to fulfill their riding goals with a unique strength and determination.

Yip Sui Hong of Hong Kong, 39, has difficulty in using his legs because of cerebral palsy. The Grade Ia rider, the most severely disabled, began riding with a visit to the local Riding for the Disabled Association at the age of eight.

"My disability changed my life and I have accepted it. I can try to be the best given my potential and talent," said Yip.

Yip said, "Most disabled people in Asia see themselves as victims and I always thought it is not about the disability, it's all about the mentality, the belief, the confidence."

Many Para-Equestrian athletes started riding as able-bodied people, but various accidents left them paralyzed. They are trying very hard to overcome misfortune and got back in the saddle. They believe in their abilities despite their disabilities.

Philippa Johnson, a Grade IV rider, is South African leading rider who won two silver medals at Athens 2004 - in the Individual Championship and in Individual Freestyle. She also took home a silver and a bronze from the World Para-Equestrian Dressage Championships in Hartpury, England, 2007.

She was involved in a car accident in October 1998. She was encouraged by her long-time family friend Katrina Puttick - now her coach and the South African Team Manager - to return to riding.

Johnson's teammate Marion Milne rode as an able-bodied athlete in Jumping and Dressage before her spine was injured by a bullet in an attempted hijack when she was 17. The incident left her in a wheelchair, but she was encouraged to get back in the saddle.

"That was a completely different experience. You don't feel everything is the same as before the accident. So it was a huge step to take and a very big challenge. I took a very long time just to find the balance in my walk and it was a lot of work," Milne said.

Altogether, 73 riders from 28 countries and regions are competing in the five-day Equestrian events of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games at the Shatin Equestrian Venue in Hong Kong.


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