Eduardas Strašunskas
Sports for People with Disabilities

Establishment of the sports club “Feniksas” and sports for the disabled

“Feniksas” sports club for people with disabilities focuses mainly on volleyball sitting, however, they do practice other sports such as orienteering, athletics, swimming, the club mostly focuses on paralympic sports. In the past “Feniksas” also led sports activities for people with severe disabilities, who cannot move their limbs a lot and sit in wheelchairs. You can also develop all kinds of recreational sports – checkers, chess, darts, I don’t even know the names, throw rings, there are many different sports adapted for the disabled, but as I said, some of them are not Paralympic sports, but people have fun playing them, so why not? But it is very complicated with basketball because you need to buy special carts, they are very big, you need a lot of investment, and you can buy five carts for a hundred thousand, but basketball players may not come. So, because of such a high risk, it is difficult to start. However, there is a club “Draugyste” that plays basketball for disabled in Vilnius. 

What is important when building contacts, attracting people with disabilities to sports activities?

I would think there are a few important things. That’s right, getting people involved is the hardest part and everything begins from there. If you are a young person, very active, you can find many towns with a lot of disabled people. Let’s say Druskininkai or elsewhere, there are resorts for the disabled and where you can really do a lot of activities. Then Trakai, then all sorts of smaller cities – Telšiai, Plungė, all other towns, where large activities may not be developed because there are simply not many disabled people. We need to understand, after all, that sport is more for younger people, and most people with disabilities are older people, which makes sense because disability is the result of accidents or deteriorating health. So, as I mentioned, the hardest thing is to bring the community together, it’s the hardest task. Well, there are many reasons why it is so difficult to bring that community together – the first reason is that the data of people with disabilities is not public and the doctors who treat them cannot make that data public. You cannot go to a clinic or hospital or rehabilitation facility and ask for a list of people with disabilities. No one will give it to you, and maybe there is logic to it so that anyone would not come and collect that data. So one reason is that there is no freely available information about who are the people with disabilities, how many there are, no one provides that kind of information. Another reason is that, as I have already mentioned, the number of people with disabilities is very small, it is estimated that there are 2% in Lithuania of people with disabilities and in general in the world there are about 10-12%. So in Lithuania, 98% of people do not want to live actively. This is again a social problem, it has to do with our history, our culture, our approach to disability, there is no need to expand on this, everything is obvious here. Imagine if you have 50 disabled people in a town, only about four to five of them will play sports. That needs to be kept in mind. Another reason is that in order to find that people, you need to drive through the rehabilitation centres and just talk to the people there. We have a lot of rehabilitation places in Vilnius – Valakampiai, Silo rehabilitation centre. And let’s say a young person with a disability lives there, and he says I’m from Šiauliai, Plunge or Druskininkai. And I always try to encourage them to try to do sports. If you like it – great, if you don’t, then you don’t. Well most people like it, usually no one leaves after they come.

Do you collaborate with other organizations to successfully and efficiently implement activities?

Federations, volleyball federations, athletics federations, then well basically all our sponsors, and companies that help us. Also, it is not just about interacting with organizations that work with disabled people. But since our main target group is people with disabilities, we mainly interact with organizations that work with disabled people.

Do you find it useful to organize joint sports activities involving people with disabilities and others?

Just right now on the pitch, you can see one person with a disability and five healthy, if I’m not mistaken. You are watching this right now, that is why volleyball sitting is so special because it can be played on equal terms.by both healthy and people with disability.

What challenges do you see in organizations working with people with disabilities?

Well the biggest challenge, as I mentioned before, is to bring together that group of people. Because very often the people with disabilities come and they don’t even understand why they are coming, they don’t know what they want to play, they don’t know if they’re interested. At first, they come to one training session, then disappear for half a year. So it is a challenge to bring together those people who want to play sports and who want to move. Some come to our club being very enthusiastic, but then they see that they are far from the Olympic standards, and decide to give up. First, you need to find like-minded people who want to engage in that activity. Because the opportunities are really good today. Opportunities to develop sports for the disabled are really good.

Is it hard to keep a constant number of people in a club?

Well, there’s always rotation, some leave the club, some people get old and can’t do sports anymore, then some youngsters come, some people like sports, some do not. Some people come for one workout and then disappear. I can’t convince someone to stay if they do not like it. But there is one person with a disability in 100 000 people that can play and let’s say he’s young and has good physical data, but he struggles mentally and thinks that if he starts doing sports for the disabled people, then he will definitely be a disabled person. Every disabled person goes through the psychological barrier to accept their disability. I have gone through that too because if you have a disability, that means you are a person with a disability, and that is it, you cannot do anything about it and it is not the end of the world. It just means you’re just different, and that does not mean a bad thing. Another thing why there are so few athletes with disabilities is because they need to learn how to live with their disability, it is very important. That usually happens after 4-6 years, after this period someone can help them. Therefore, social integration is very important for people with disabilities. When I myself was seventeen years old, I didn’t have a hand, it seemed like a tragedy to me, I thought ‘How can I live like that?’.

Is sport an effective tool for increasing social integration of people with disabilities?

Communication is important, as they say if you feel bad – talk, only communication can help. And in sports, there is a lot of communication, especially in team sports. Any hobby or activity is very helpful for people with disabilities. But I would single out sports maybe because sports do not only help one to integrate, but also require a lot of effort from a person. And if you engage in some other hobby, you can put it off, but when it comes to sports, it requires all the time and effort from you. However, when you start exercising you can’t stop, even if it’s bad weather, men in my team will still want to play. If there has been a week without sports, people will start feeling bad. When a person gets that much involved, you will not make him leave anymore. As we say in our team, you will be carried out of the pitch with your feet forward.

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