Prior to landing in London for the 2012 Paralympics, North Korean swimmer Rim Ju Song already finished ahead of the pack. After receiving a spot in this year’s Games, the 16-year-old swimmer automatically became a trailblazer of historic proportions. Song is the first disabled athlete to ever compete for North Korea, and has the distinct honor of being their only representative. For more than a half-century, ignorance and discrimination caused the Asian nation to show a lack of respect for past Paralympic Games, choosing to overlook the augmenting circuit of competitors with disabilities.
Unfortunately for disabled North Koreans, the government did not restrict their disdain for handicapped citizens to only those pursuing athletics. According to US State Department human rights reports, disabled people were often taken from their families and ostracized. In some cases, they were sterilized against their will. However, with Mr. Song’s monumental break-through, such inexplicable behavior may soon begin to change, especially once he hits the water for the 50-meter freestyle later today.
Mr. Song’s date with destiny began more than a decade earlier, after a construction accident left him disabled. The tragedy made it necessary for both his left arm and leg to be amputated, but even that could not stop him from learning to swim. Remarkably, he only got into the sport a few months ago, after being selected for a wildcard slot. Doctors and prognosticators are not very confident about Mr. Song’s potential for great results in the water, but he already left his most threatening competitor in the dust. It will be interesting to track his progress from here on out.