Published on September 3, 2021

On Being Brave

THE SPECIAL OLYMPIC WORLD SUMMER GAMES were staged in Dublin in 2003, during an unforgettable week of pride, pageantry and participation.  The swimming competitions were held in the National Aquatic Centre.

In one heat of the “Fifteen Metre Unassisted Swim”, there were only three competitors.  Each had an assistant following in the water, in case of emergency.  A boy from the Seychelles wins the heat easily in 14.7 seconds.  A boy from Honduras comes second in 17.97 seconds.  All eyes turn to the third competitor.  She is Hazel Zumbado, aged fifteen, from Costa Rica.  She is deaf and mute and out of the water, she is confined to a wheelchair, but she has the use of her arms and so can swim.  She takes a long time to get going and the crowd responds to her huge effort.

Frank McNally catches the moment in his Irish Times report.

“They are shouting, screaming, urging her every inch of the way; and her progress is measured in inches, as enormous effort translates into tiny advances through the water …  There are now four assistants in the water, encouraging and ready to help if needed.  But the swimmer is going to make it without their assistance, and with everyone in the packed gallery on his or her feet, applauding, she touches the wall in 1minute 59.23 seconds.”

How beautifully Hazel epitomised the Special Olympics motto:

Let me win, but if I cannot win,

let me be brave in the attempt.

© John Quinn 2011       Moments [On Being Brave].