Rising Phoenix | Third Space

Rising Phoenix

Tue 17 Aug 2021
When disabilities help athletes to rise to new heights

4 out of 5 stars

With so much attention on the challenges and eventual opening of the Tokyo Olympics, it is easy to forget that the Paralympics will be coming soon. They may not get the same level of attention from the media, but they are still significant to fans worldwide. Netflix has managed to tap into the emotional and historical impact of these games with the documentary, Rising Phoenix.

The Olympics have always been a celebration of humans from around the globe achieving amazing feats of athleticism. Stories that capture the attention of a worldwide audience. While it is the real biographical sketches of these athletes that grab the hearts of viewers as they witness them overcome great odds to compete at the games. This is especially true of the Paralympics, where the backstories of many of the athletes' lives equal their achievements on the playing field, pool or track. Directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui manage to portray the delicate balance between these two aspects of these games along with the fascinating history of this event.

Throughout this film, one thing that is reiterated is how the competitors do not see themselves as disabled, but as athletes who must adapt to the world’s expectations to achieve their dreams. In the process, they manage to change how the world sees their physical limitations and how they have managed to earn their place in history. Audiences are introduced to nine athletes by hearing their stories and how the obstacles that come in different forms have motivated them. They show how the hurdles they must overcome motivate them to become more than good Paralympians, while many can be classified as world-class athletes. Each personal account could have become a film unto itself, from wheelchair champion Tatyana McFadden to South African track sensation, Ntando Mahlangu. It is impossible to pick a favourite because they all bring a richness to this project without dominating the other individual accounts.

These personal narratives are compelling and underpin the movie, but the historical elements make for a richer experience. We hear of the work of Jewish immigrant, Sir Ludwig Guttman after World War II to help in the rehabilitation of soldiers coming back to England. Then he used sport to get these men back into society and eventually started the games for men and women from around the world. Work that always came with difficulties proved to be a richer reward when they overcame the challenges. This becomes one of the most heartwarming films of the year and will motivate people to tune in to the future Paralympic games. Yet, Rising Phoenix will make people realise they can overcome anything that life throws their way and force them to appreciate all they have been given.

REEL DIALOGUE: What abilities do you have to celebrate?

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." Psalm 139:14

In ancient times and even in some cultures today, many of the individuals in this film would have been left to die on the side of the road. Due to their disabilities, they would have been considered to have no value to add to society. Thankfully they all were given a chance to prove that they have something to offer the world.

One element of the teachings of Jesus that reflected the words of Psalm 139 shows that God values each and every one of us.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Matthew 10:29-31

Jesus says that God cares about his creation, but more importantly, he cares about each person on earth. Each man and woman has value even though he knows every sparrow and where it falls, yet mankind's value exceeds the sparrows. To the point that God cares so much about humanity that he knows the numbers of each of our hairs. All the while providing a means to spend eternity with him through his Son.

This all means that regardless of your life experience or situation, you are valued by God.

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