High-performance sport for persons with disabilities is about more than just a personal challenge – it is one of the best ways to fight for inclusion and against discrimination.
“If life gives you a wheelchair, run with it”, could be the unspoken motto of Comité Handisport 06, the Niçois NGO that supports handicapped people’s right to a full and active life. And it executes its mission so well that it has produced quite a few champions. Three local wheelchair-bound athletes, all with impressive accomplishments to their name, are currently getting ready to participate in the 2019 Berlin marathon, one of the world’s biggest ones. The declared goal of Aurélien Martin, Benoît Poirot and Pascal Veillet: along with scoring yet another sporty exploit, they continue to raise awareness for the situation of persons with handicaps.
Primus inter pares among these top athletes on wheels is Aurélien Martin. The 37 year old Nice native refuses to let his physical handicap define him. Paraplegic from age 7 when he was in a car accident, he spent five years in physical rehab. There, discovered his love and talent for sports, and has since tried his hand on swimming, athletics, basketball, handbike, and skiing. And he loves competing in marathons. Berlin will be his tenth competition. You read that right – his tenth. But the five Nice to Cannes runs, two in Paris, the one in Valence where he set his personal best time of an astounding 2 hours and 56 minutes, and a New York marathon to date are not all he has bragging rights for – he also participated in five Nice semi marathons, the French semi marathon championship… and for good measure, his first M Distance triathlon earlier this year… Are you exhausted yet? (Wait till you hear that his training partner Pascal Veillet finished a marathon in 1h45’26”…)
Of course Aurélien is in it for the athletic challenge, forever pushing his limits and boundaries. But he is also the highly visible face of Comité Handisport 06. Despite numerous laws to improve disabled persons’ situation and status, a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of integration, accessibility, access to recognition and development. “What better way than to show through sport that they are just as capable as their able-bodied peers? The media’s interest in the Paralympic Games is high but it must not be limited to a once-every-four-years coverage,” is the stance that Handisport 06 takes. Top-level amateur handicap sport perfectly bridges the gap.
High-profile events like the prestigious Berlin marathon, taking place on 29th September, 2019, serve this purpose well. But they are expensive and often rely on donations to cover preparation, travel and accommodation for the athletes and their assistants. Handisport 06 therefore has to rely on a crowdfunding campaign to be able to tackle the 42 km race. Apart from that, athletic equipment adapted to the needs of handicapped persons is expensive. Handisport 06 is therefore also always on the outlook for sponsors to help with these costs. Aurélien’s employer, Caisse d’Épargne in Nice (Jean-Médécin) set a fine example by financing his athletic wheelchair.
— Aurélien Lazzaro, President, Comité Départemental Handisport 06
Another Niçois amateur athlete is also rolling along for this ride, but as a representative of able-bodied runners. Inline skater Daniel Mihalcea will race the Berlin marathon on rollerblades the day before the main event. This is not the first time he participates in a high-profile sports event in the service of French NGO Handicap International. One of his highly visible initiatives was a 1,850 km rollerblade run from Berlin to Nice in 2016. His next spectacular exploit is planned for autumn 2019, when he wants to do a solo skate of 1,600 km from Alicante (Spain) via Toulouse and back home to Nice.
On any given day there is a good chance that you run into Aurélien or Daniel on the Prom’ while they’re out training. Do go up to them and say hello (if you can catch them…), congratulating them on their tremendous accomplishments and supporting them in their ongoing fight for inclusion. Because whether you propel yourself forward on your own two legs or on wheels makes absolutely no difference at all. Life rolls on, one way or another.
Lead image courtesy Aurélien Martin (@Caesa Picsproduction)