« Rising Phoenix »: the extraordinary story of the Paralympic Games

Netflix presents an exiting full immersion into the history of the Paralympics and the career of nine amazing professional players

Jonnie Peacock regained his T44 100m world title at World Para Athletics Championships ©Getty Images

“It’s funny, because when you see the last Marvel Avengers, you see a team of superheroes who try to save humankind and fight for success. And, well, we are quite similar because we have all experienced a tragedy. But that’s where our strength lies. Life is a fight. We are trying to save the world.” With these words the runner and long-jumper Jean-Baptiste Alaize opens this incredible sport documentary directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, released on Netflix on August 26, 2020. It presents with passion how the Paralympic Games were born, also focusing on the life of nine amazing elite athletes: Ryley Batt, Ellie Cole, Ntando Mahlangu, Bebe Vio, Jean-Baptiste Alaize, Tatyana McFadden, Jonnie Peacock, Matt Stutzman and Cui Zhe. It combines their personal backstories and some competition moments.

We wanted to change the way people saw people with a disability.

Xavi Gonzalez, CEO of the International Paralympic Committee (2004-2019)

Diversity is strength and power

The diversity is the key word in this film. It aims to change the way the world sees people with disability and to spread the message that un athlete is an athlete no matter his conditions. A man without arms, Matt Stutzman, can compete in archery using his legs. A man in a wheelchair, Ryley Batt, can perfectly play rugby. And a young girl like Bebe Vio whose arms and legs were amputated (at the age of 11) because of meningitis, can still compete in fencing. Her nickname gave the title to the documentary. As she said: “My name was the Rising Phoenix, because the phoenix can live, die, and burn, and live again”.

Parallel Olympics

Perhaps few people know the origins of the Paralympics. Its existence is due to a Jewish neurologist and neurosurgeon, Ludwig Guttmann, who managed to escape the Nazi Germany and spent his life helping and saving soldiers’ lives. In 1944 if you had a spinal cord injury you were condemned to die within six months, but thanks to Dr. Guttmann treatment who at that time was in England, they had the chance to live. He also decided to include sport in the rehabilitation of handicapped people. “When I saw how sport is accepted by the paralyzed, it was logical to start a sports movement”, he affirmed. An idea that changed the life of millions of people. The first Paralympics competition took place on July 29th, 1948, in his hospital. Sixteen people participated. At the same time the Olympics were taking place in London. It became official in 1960, in Rome, hosting 400 athletes from 23 countries. As a lot of people wrongly think, the word “Paralympics” doesn’t have nothing to do with being paralyzed. Paralympics are parallel to the Olympics.

Paralympics athlete Ntando Mahlangu ©Netflix

The impossible is possible

The story of the Paralympics has known various difficulties. It has faced some struggles like in 1980, when the Soviet Union refused to host it. They said that there were no disabled athletes in their county. And then in 2016 there was the risk that the games in Rio were cancelled. The reason? The organizers had used the funds reserved to the Paralympics, to organize the Olympics. It goes without saying that it was a news which angered all the Paralympic athletes in the world. Finding the money, another time, was literally a race against time. Despite this, Rising Phoenix wants to spread a positive awareness about human potential. Using Prince Harry words, the Paralympics is so great because you watch something « you’ve been taught is impossible. »

Patricia Boateng

Cover picture: Bebe Vio ©Netflix

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