‘Beach for All’ at Paralympic Games

Amanda Cotrin, a 22-year-old student who currently lives in Rio de Janeiro, recently participated in the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. Those games, held Sept. 7 to 18, followed the Olympics held in Brazil in August.

Cotrin lives with tetraplegia, a form of paralysis and depends on a wheelchair to get around. She said being part of the Paralympics was an unforgettable moment in her life.

The Paralympic Games are an 11-day multi-sport disability event designed for athletes with physical, mental and sensorial disabilities who compete in 23 sports. It’s a competition full of winners and lots of excitement.

Cotrin learned about the auditions through her sister who was part of the Olympic opening ceremonies. She was accepted the next day. Three months of hard work and exciting rehearsals followed. Volunteers from both Olympics games participated in this once-in-a-lifetime experience with people from all over the world.

Cotrin’s part in the opening ceremonies was representing an amazing project created by the Novo Ser Institute in 2008. “Beach for All” is a project with the objective of developing accessibility structures for people with special needs so they can enjoy their moment on at least one spot of each beach in Rio de Janeiro. The idea was to create assistive devices (amphibious chairs, beach mat, and sports equipment) along the beach with the help of specialized teams that create inclusive activities for people with special needs, and provide all the necessary safety measures.

After a few attempts with not much success, the “Beach for All” got under way in the beginning of 2010. The project took place on the most famous beaches of Rio, including Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema e Piscinão de Ramos.

Cotrin said, “I hope the world watched and that in the future this project won’t be limited to only Brazil.”

Unfortunately, people with special needs still have to deal with difficulties beyond their daily lives. In Cotrin’s words, “Although I have been bullied, I consider myself a happy person. The fact that I’m in wheelchair never affects me. I’ll always try to show who I am and never let my ‘disability’ be more evident than who I am, and always try to overcome my limitations.” She added, “I hope in the near future we can be recognized and treated equally by the ‘normal people’ in society.”

For Cotrin, there’s still a lot to be changed in the world, and she already knows where she would start: “The mindset of people. I think I would change that. It can be the beginning of other changes, too.”

Proof that people in the Paralympics and people with special needs still aren’t treated like everyone else is reflected in the tickets sales. About a month ago, according to Daily Mail on Aug. 17, only 12 percent of the tickets to the Paralympic Games were sold, causing a big commotion on the Internet and resulting in an overturn.

On Aug. 14, the official committee of the Paralympics proudly announced that more than two million tickets were sold, becoming the second-most successful Paralympic Games in terms of ticket sales in history, behind the London Games in 2012.

Craig Spence, head of media at the International Paralympic Committee, said, “Bearing in mind where we were at the end of August, when 200,000 tickets were sold, to sell 10 times that in a matter of weeks shows how the cariocas (Rio residents) have embraced these Games.” 

Besides her studies, Cotrin swims and competes in Bocce tournaments. She said she does not plan to compete or be part of the Brazil’s Paralympic delegation in the future. She studies Portuguese and Latin with the goal of becoming an expert translator and eventually achieving her Ph.D. in Portuguese.

Of Brazil’s participation in the Paralympics, she said, “Of course I’m cheering for them! Brazil is always improving itself in the Paralympics and I don’t think this is going to be different this time. After all, we have an incentive that is playing at home.”