Fighting for Equality through Inclusion in Sports

On the margins of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, a group of 15 international emerging leaders in disability sport including two Paralympians are visiting the United States as a part of the U.S. Department of State’s Sport for Community Global Sports Mentoring Program (S4C).  

While in the United States they are taking part in this five-week immersive mentorship program with emerging leaders from around the world who, like them, strive to create positive change in their home communities through sports. Ten U.S. disability sport organizations were selected to host the emerging leaders and provide tailored mentorship programs aimed at growing participation in sports for people with disabilities.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judy Heumann had the opportunity to sit down with two emerging leaders, Paralympians: Adeline Dumapong-Ancheta of the Philippines and Olesya Vladikina of Russia. Recognizing that their stories could be a powerful tool for empowering others, the Special Advisor interviewed them about their experiences and some of the challenges disabled athletes face while competing in sports.

Adeline Dumapong-Ancheta was born with polio in a family of six children in the mountainous part of Northern Philippines, and at age six, was sent to an institution for children with disabilities in Manila where she excelled in sports and music. Her competition in a wheelchair race in Japan during her third year of high school made her realize that she could excel through hard work and perseverance. After her university studies in the late 90s, Adeline started competing in powerlifting and eventually qualified for the Paralympic Games in Sydney in 2000 where she won a bronze medal. She has stayed with that sport ever since, and most recently in December 2015, Adeline won a gold medal at the ASEAN Paralympic Games in Singapore. She also hopes to qualify for this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio. Winning medals gave Adeline some influence in convincing other persons with disabilities, especially women, to also pursue sports or at least, to engage in an active lifestyle. Adeline believes her participation in powerlifting is worth the effort, and she uses it to cut across all sectors of Philippine society by reaching out and inspiring others.

Having grown up in a family of athletes, Olesya Vladikina was involved in an accident in her early 20s in which she lost her left arm. But that didn’t stop her determination from competing in sports. At the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, she won a gold medal in the 100m breaststroke, setting a new world record in the process. Olesya added three more medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, and she is now preparing to compete in her third and final Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer. “I can say that sports really saved my life,” Olesya says. “When I lost my arm, my mental state was so terrible; I didn’t know how I could continue living. Sports helped me realize that I am a full person and that I can dream and achieve.” As one of Russia’s most accomplished female swimmers, Olesya plans for a long and successful future outside of the pool, where she can influence a new generation of Russians to follow in her footsteps and to fulfill their dreams.

As advocates for inclusion of disabled people in sports, Adeline and Olesya will hone their leadership skills from their experience in the U.S., and use their gained knowledge to deepen the work they have started in their home countries. They will also have learned how important legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has provided greater access to sports for all people. Their stories reinforce the importance of the United States’ work to remove barriers to create a world in which disabled people enjoy dignity and full inclusion. The strength and resolve these two athletes display -– and countless others –- are proof of what is possible; that fulfilling one’s dream is attainable through hard work and perseverance.

A special thanks to Ms. Ann Cody of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Sports United Program for her work in organizing a leadership program for both disabled persons and disability sports advocates.

Check out this conversation in the second installment in the U.S. Department of State’s #HumanRightsHeroes audio series that shines a spotlight on individuals who are engaging in meaningful human rights work around the world.

About the Author: Lawrence S. Schwartz serves as a Public Diplomacy Officer for the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:

Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judith Huemann, center left, with participants in and State Department Educational and Cultural Affairs exchange program focused on disabilities and sports. [State Department photo]
May 26, 2016

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