Equal Opportunity Day at Artek

On June 30, the children at Artek took part in the Equal Opportunity Day sports project, which included three Paralympic sports competitions – wheelchair tennis, sitting volleyball and blind football – hosted by young Paralympic champions and wheelchair athletes. Artek is implementing this inclusive project for a third consecutive year jointly with the Russian Tennis Federation; equal opportunities have become a daily reality at the children's center.

As many as 500 children from Camp Morskoi gathered to compete in Paralympic sports at the Artek Sports Palace. The organizers prepared several activity zones – two each for wheelchair tennis, sitting volleyball and blind football. Artek Director Alexei Kasprzhak and Alexander Brilyantchikov, head of the committee for the development of adaptive tennis in Russia, opened the festival.

Welcoming the participants of the unusual competitions, Alexei Kasprzhak drew attention to the fact that Equal Opportunity Day is relevant for the whole of Russia, not only for the International Children's Center: “The Russian wheelchair tennis championship held last year at Artek Arena has shown how incorrect the term ‘limited abilities’ is; everybody felt that way. The athletes who appeared on the court and played an incredible game demonstrated higher abilities than many of us could have. I would like to see the Equal Opportunity Day tradition launched at Artek three years ago spread to different corners of our country with very simple logic: there are no people with disabilities – there are our own beliefs about our limitations. These beliefs need to be challenged every day, and everything will turn out right.” The head of the children's center stressed that everyone is equal at Artek, and children with special needs participate in all Artek activities.

According to Alexander Brilyantchikov, Equal Opportunity Day at Artek is an important event, especially for typical children: Artek is an environment that blurs all boundaries between children with different abilities. When children play tennis in wheelchairs, it is impossible to tell whether they are healthy children or children with special needs. Three years ago, we could only dream of holding such an event for the children at Artek, and now it has become a good tradition. I am sure that it will continue for many, many more years, that new friends will come here, and regular participants will return. The Russian government and Artek are making great efforts to improve the attitude toward people with disabilities in society from year to year. And we are helping them in this.”

All participants in the competition used wheelchairs and covered their eyes with blindfolds to experience firsthand the unique hearing and coordination skills needed to play tennis in wheelchairs and blind football. How incredibly difficult it was for typical children to score football goals focusing only on the sound of the ball with a bell! These children had guides in this yet unknown world: eight young athletes who have no problem conquering the steepest peaks – wheelchair tennis players, winners of city, Russian and even world championships.

In early June, Sergei Lysov and Vadim Obukhov from the Moscow Region and Leonid Gubanov from the Perm Territory, members of the Russian junior wheelchair tennis team, competed with young athletes from Brazil, Australia, Colombia, Britain, the Netherlands, Turkey and Malaysia, and won the titles of world champions.

Vadim Obukhov from Dmitrov has come to Artek for the third time. In 2016 he spent an entire session at the children's center, and in 2017, he participated in the Russian championship, where he won a silver medal with Sergei Lysov. “It's good to be a world champion, but it's more important that we defended the honor of our country,” he said. “Today, we are helping our peers to get used to the unusual game and to maneuver a wheelchair. I would like to see all children have more incentive to participate in sports and self-development, so that they could represent our country well in the area of their choice.”  Vadim said it is his last session at Artek, because he will soon turn 18. “I want to remember this place and Artek friendship for the rest of my life and the best adults I met here. May Artek stay with me forever and help in life,” the athlete wished himself.

Leonid Gubanov from the town of Lysovo, Perm Territory, is also a regular participant at Artek. The young world champion is sure that without fail, the most important thing is to keep trying, as the Russian team did at the World Wheelchair Tennis Championship in the Netherlands, losing the first set in the group with Brazil. “Such days of equal opportunities as at Artek "must be carried out throughout the country – after all, communication between ordinary children and people like us helps everyone to become kinder and more successful in life," Leonid is sure.

Darina Ivanova from St. Petersburg also participated in the Russian wheelchair tennis championship. The athlete won a silver medal then and still remembers how amicably Artek Arena applauded. “Equal Opportunity Day helps other children to understand how we live, moving around in wheelchairs, playing tennis and achieving results. They tried today to steer a wheelchair and to hit the ball – it was not easy for many. It's an exchange of roles – now we helped absolutely healthy children,” she said.

Yelizaveta Kachina from Ulan-Ude had to overcome the inner barrier to sit in a wheelchair, and it proved even more difficult to maneuver it: “I realized that for children with special health conditions, it is very difficult to control such a mechanism and move around. They have huge willpower, they are determined. Right next to us are the real champions of the world. Today I felt pride both for our country and for Artek, which gives equal opportunities to all children. And great respect for the children who are making progress despite the circumstances of life.”

It was very difficult to play tennis in a wheelchair also for Anastasia Popova from Moscow: “Not all the children understand what it means to be limited in abilities. For a few hours today, we found ourselves in an unusual and difficult situation. I think that many had a chance to experience how our friends live, who have to move around in wheelchairs. I have always respected such people, and now I also admire their courage.”

Anastasia Malakhova (Dubna, Moscow Region) tried all the Paralympic sports, as the leader of the group that included the young wheelchair athletes during this session. “They are very strong, positive, courageous and kind,” Anastasia says about her group members. “For the whole year they are charging me with incredible energy to do good things, to treat everything positively. And when it seems that I have insoluble problems, I look at these children and understand that nothing is impossible. After all, these children sitting in wheelchairs are coping: they play, do sports and climb Mount Ayu-Dag with us. And they also win awards for our country. This deserves much respect. I take such pride in them and have much love for these children. Meeting them is a gift of fate for me and for those children who are with them here at Artek. All the children in my group have changed – they became better people.”