by Derek Franklin
It has been a busy summer for sport with the Olympics and Paralympic Games adding to the regular sporting schedule.
Thailand once again participated in both events and as in previous years the Paralympians returned home to the Land of Smiles with more gold, silver and bronze medals than their Olympic compatriots. Every four years, since Thailand joined the Paralympic Games in 1984, the athletes with disabilities have won more medals than the able bodied athletes. This year they won six gold, six silver and six bronze medals.
And yet they do not get as much recognition, neither do they receive the same financial rewards as the able bodied; the two Thai gold medalists at the Olympics received 12 million baht each from the government, plus much more from private companies; the six gold medalists returning from the Paralympics will receive just over seven million.
Of the 45 athletes who participated at the Rio Paralympics, seven are former students at the Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities here in Pattaya.
The Thai athletes competed in 14 sports and 63 different events and the seven former students, two females and five male, competed in a variety of sports including athletics, javelin, powerlifting, boccia, table tennis and pistol shooting; most took up their chosen sport after being introduced to it while studying at the school.
Watcharaphon Vongsa, who is a wheelchair user due to having cerebral palsy, joined the school in 2009 to study Computer Science, but left early to train with the national Boccia team which went to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where he won a gold medal.
Since then he has traveled the world competing in his sport and following the Rio Games he returned to Thailand with two gold medals which he won in the mixed individual Boccia competition and also as a member of the team competition.
Former electronics student Pichaya Kurattanasir carried home a bronze medal which he won in the 1500 m wheelchair race.
Another former student, and a current teacher at the school, Narong Kasanun, came fourth in the 58 kg powerlifting division, lifting a final weight of 165 kg, almost two and a half times his own body weight, not an easy task when you have no use of your lower limbs.
Since it’s founding in 1984 the school has a long tradition of encouraging its students to take up a sport, not only for fun, but to give a sense of achievement, to build confidence and in many instances students have been selected to represent the school, the province and the Kingdom at national and international competitions.
When the next Paralympic Games opens in Tokyo in 2020, the Thai team will once again compete, and as the parade of athletes enters the stadium many will be former students at the school in Pattaya. Once again the Paralympians will more than likely return with more medals than their able bodied fellow citizens and still receive less recognition and less reward money, something many rely on to provide for their families.
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