Training for Life

Article excerpt

Disabled Norwegian student Stig Morten Sandvik has won medals as a swimmer. But sport has above all helped him achieve confidence and self-respect

"It's thanks to sport that I'm so independent in life. Sport has meant everything to me," says Stig Morten Sandvik, a 28-year-old Norwegian political science student who trains for 12 hours every week to become a better swimmer.

Stig Morten, who lives at Bodoe, in Nordland county, was born with Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a disease which affects the muscles. This makes him dependent on a wheelchair, although he can also move around using crutches.

He was six when his mother first took him to the swimming pool. He took to the water and soon came to feel that swimming would play a big part in his life. The gold medals he has won in World Championships and the bronze medals he took in the Paralympics in 1992 and 1996 prove just how important it became.

But for Stig Morten, as for many other disabled persons, sport has far more to do with managing his life than with winning prizes. "My sporting activity made me a normal Norwegian boy. I was able to do something as well as all my friends," he says. It also made him very independent in his daily life. When he was 16 and about to graduate from high school, he chose to live alone. Now he is moving in with his girlfriend.

Bringing the barriers down

He is sufficiently independent to be able to clean his apartment by himself. He cooks and goes shopping on his own. "The only thing I can't do is change light bulbs," he says.

In Norway most disabled people have their own houses or apartments, and look after themselves, sometimes with support from personal care assistants. Very few of them live in special institutions. Stig Morten feels totally integrated, and few people even comment that he has a girlfriend without a handicap. He is also convinced that his sport gives him a self-respect and self-confidence that disabled people who don't practice such an activity may lack. …