The Jakarta Post
On a field of champions, hundreds of athletes competed in Sanur last week in battles for gold, silver and bronze medals awarded across the sports spectrum, from power lifting to chess.
Many of the athletes took home medals, but every one of these 356 sports heroes took home something of far greater value ' the knowledge that each and every one of them was a champion who could dream for Olympic status.
This was Bali's first ever Paragames, where personal bests' and national records were shattered by extraordinary achievements, such as those by Agung Oka Sugiato, a 62-year-old blind chessman from Denpasar who defeated a Singapore Fidelity Chess Master; and by Nengah Widiasih, the national women's champion and London ParaOlympian who made a 95-kilogram power lift, braking her own record of 82 kilograms at the 2012 Riau Paragames.
Others also drove themselves on, including 33-year-old Wayan Rupawan, who lifted 75 kilograms in the 52 kilo class, or athletics star I Gusti Ngurah Karya Natih, who took home the gold in the shotput and discus. Both were in their first outing in competition.
The games are the brainchild of Rodney Holt, Bali Sports Foundation founder, 1992 games Olympic speed skier and former Indonesian National Rugby team player, while the venue was provided by the Bali International School.
While records set at the Bali Paragames were not admitted into the national scores, the participating athletes said that they were excited to take part to confirm their abilities and to set future goals in their disciplines.
Competitor Karya Natih picked up a gold in the shotput and discus and a bronze for the javelin, despite this being his first competition.
'I was doubting that I could achieve such an outcome. My mental focus was not strong, but when I won I was so much more motivated to continue my athletic training. I hope to make the national record in the future,' says the man who proved that one good arm used well can bring home medals.
Natih was among the 26-strong Senang Hati contingent that fielded athletes in power lifting, chess and athletics, picking up five gold, four silver and seven bronze medals in the games. The athletes joined teams from across all of Bali, including Klungkung, Denpasar, Badung and Tabanan.
The importance of recognition in sports was made clear by power lifter and national champion Daniel Vincentius, who was struck down by polio as a six year old.
'I feel happy to be at these Bali Paragames because I met a lot of friends, also in wheelchairs and with other disabilities. I am from a poor family, and since school I have had to have help. I have wanted to be like other people, but my physicality is this. But my disability does not have to impact on my life. I can keep moving forward. Through power lifting I feel strong and independent,' says Daniel, who works for an export company.
This demand for independence and dignity was often heard from the athletes. Another polio victim, Jenal Rahmawan, an IT whiz, joined the wheelchair basketball team for what organizers claimed was the first such game ever to be held in Bali.
'I am exhausted, but it's fun. The game is much tougher than I had imagined. We played against an able-bodied team and beat them. This is the first time I've played ' we trained in the morning ' and I feel it's important to have this Paragames event and raise awareness among the able bodied about people with disabilities,' says Jenal.
Raising awareness and smashing stereotypes was essential, says 55-year-old Singaporean wheelchair basketball paralympian Jack Lee, who along with Singapore Disability Sports Council president Lim Puay Tiak, attended the weekend games to introduce wheelchair basketball to Bali.
'I think the Paragames are an eye-opener for the public here. I understand Bali's culture of karma, where people believe they deserved disability, so I hope we can shatter such cultural barriers to the point where these barriers can never return. I would also like to see more government involvement, so organizations can be more structured and find it easier to receive funding. Here at these games I see there is potential for Olympians,' says Lee who will welcome the Bali wheelchair basketball team to Singapore later this year.
Also calling for greater government support is Martin Kadek, a Jimbaran special education teacher.
'I want the Bali government to show more care for these athletes, because they have a future and a right to that future. Governments in other countries care far more than they do here. Local governments all say they want to support these athletes, but then they turn away. They did not come to this event,' says Kadek.
This disappointment in the government was also raised by Dria-Raba (Blind Foundation) head Ayu Pradnyanani Manthara, whose mother established the Denpasar-based foundation in 1957.
'The government and politicians are not willing to care unless there is an election. They make empty promises only. These games are truly very, very good. They give the kids self-confidence and it makes them see they can do anything,' says Manthara, who said that she was unaware that blind people could swim and compete until she met Rodney Holt and the Bali Sports foundation members.
'This is extraordinary. Before I knew of [the] Bali Sports [Foundation], I did not know that blind kids could swim. It had never been done before in Bali, so I was lucky to meet Rodney. My kids started swimming from nothing. Now they are champions with gold and silver medals,' says Manthara. 'They want to keep learning to swim and they want so much to go to the Paralympics ' and it can be done.'
Discrimination towards the disabled in not uniquely Indonesian. Bali Sports Foundation ambassador and five-time paralympian gold medal swimmer Kingsley Bugarin remembers with bitterness soul-destroying taunts he received as a youngster in Perth.
Severely visually impaired, Bugarin says that he wanted desperately to join his school's swim team as a child.
'The deputy principal at the time said the school didn't let 'slows' onto the team. That was a euphemism for intellectually handicapped. I learned young to look like there was nothing wrong with me. Growing up in Oz in the 1970s I was classified as a pathogen,' says the athlete, who has since swum almost 50,000 kilometers ' enough distance to encircle the globe and competed in five ParaOlympic games.
Sports stars like Bugarin are now being created in Bali with support from Bali Sports Foundation and former Olympians. These new athletes will carry forward the flame, proving to the world that they are true champions.
' Photos By JB Djwan