Sports, and more specifically Special Olympics, have changed Johanna Pramstaller's life.
Her athletic experience and involvement with the organization have helped the native Austrian build self-confidence, stay fit, clear her head, and learn how to work as part of a team.
She caught the sports bug thanks to a fellow family member with an intellectual disability who one day asked her to come and support him while he competed in a race.
She was immediately drawn to the aspect of competition, but she was shy. She questioned her own self-discipline.
But once she started, there was no turning back. Two years later, she was in China for her first Special Olympics. Now she practices golf, athletics and floorball in the summer and alpine skiing in the winter. And with several Summer and World Winter Games under her belt, the 30-year-old who works at a nursing home is not only a successful athlete, but also a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger for Special Olympics.
We chatted with Johanna before the start of the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017. Take a look:
What’s your fondest Special Olympics memory?
In 2015, I spoke at the opening ceremony of the Summer Games in Los Angeles. I spoke in English in front of more than 70,000 people, telling them about Eunice Shriver, founder of this movement. That is a very special memory. But every time I march at an opening ceremony, is a great feeling. So many people from different cultures and everybody giving you high-fives – that for me is the highlight of the Special Olympics. We are the focus of the attention. It’s our time.
Where did you learn to speak English?
I studied with a teacher, and since I became Global Messenger, I have been practicing more and more because I chat daily with my fellow Global Messengers.
How is the relationship between delegations?
We are all like a big family, and we like to help each other.
What does inclusion mean to you?
It means that you are treated the same, no matter if you have intellectual disabilities or not. It is like at my golf club – there’s no difference there, everybody is accepted. That’s really what inclusion is all about.
How important are sports to you?
Very much. I work in a nursing home for elderly people, where there are also some quite famous residents like Gebi, a ski instructor who taught Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. The job can be stressful sometimes, and sports help me ease the pressure and relax.
When did you become a Special Olympic athlete?
The first time was at the World Summer Games in Shanghai in 2007, but my best performances there were only a forth- and a fifth-place finish in athletics. My first medals came at the Winter Games in Idaho in 2009, where I won a bronze and a silver.
Do you think Special Olympics can change the perception about people with disabilities?
Yes, it can. These events helped me open up and communicate with the world. Competition in sports is where I can get the strength to do my best. I can show everyone what I trained for and what I have learned.
How did you become an International Global Messenger?
This is an important task that means a lot to me. I started off by being nominated regional spokesperson in 2010. Four years later, I sent out a letter offering to volunteer as a Global Messenger, and I was accepted. I became the first Messenger from Austria.
What message do you want to send to the world?
That people with disabilities can push the limits the same way professional athletes do, and for this reason, we deserve the same acknowledgement and respect. And that we would like to see more coverage in the media outside the Special Olympics Games. Please give us more airtime!
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