A depiction of a paralympic swimmer underwater, an overhead shot of a wheelchair track athlete, and a below photo of another track athlete with a leg prosthetic jumping

Edition 22 | Spring 2021

The Paralympics like you’ve never seen them before

by Sarah Farrell

As a sports fan, the first half of 2020 was challenging to get through. But the vacuum of live sports in my life left room for me to rediscover other things to watch. Sure, I binge-watched shows and rewatched a lot of my favorite movies, but I also watched a lot of sports documentaries–from “The Last Dance” to “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” to “Athlete A.” Even when live sports returned, I was still enamored by these stories. I was incredibly excited about the August 2020 release of the documentary “Rising Phoenix” on Netflix.

This film follows the lives of multiple paralympic athletes worldwide as they prepare for the 2016 Games in Rio. It also gives an educational overview of the foundation and history of the Paralympic Games.

If you’ve seen Netflix-produced documentaries before, you know the visuals are stunning, and this movie is no different. I was captivated by the opening scene, especially with the athletes’ imagery depicted in marble statues. That was such a cool ode to the ancient Olympic games played in Athens. 

Beyond just the visuals, what made this documentary a must-watch for me were the stories. As you would expect, the athletes are intensely passionate about the sports they compete in, which comes across loud and clear when they are reliving moments of competition. What struck me more, though, was the backstory.

Netflix interviewed a wide variety of people for this film–some people born with disabilities, and others acquired their disabled later in life either from an accident or disease. As a viewer, you got to see the emotion of how they lived with it and accepted it as part of their life. But the way Netflix told the stories was different; the ones involving injuries were slower, darker, the music set the tone. They highlighted the fact that these athletes used sports to escape. The stories from the athletes who were born with disabilities tended to be more hopeful and lighthearted, which was reflected in the music.

As Sir Phillip Craven, the former president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in the film, “The games are the shop window of the movement.” This is one of my biggest takeaways from the movie. This film and the Games themselves are a way for the public to glimpse the disability community and disability rights movement.

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Sarah Farrell

Sarah Farrell | Writer | @thesarahfarrell

Sarah Farrell holds a master’s degree in sports journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in sports management from Trinity University. She is a Texas native who has fallen in love with hiking the Arizona wilderness.

Read more by Sarah Farrell.