Dec 06, 2008 Sports
By Michael Benjamin
The popular Guyanese idiom ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ could not have been more strongly advocated than through the feats of Amrita Ramjas, a young Australian of Guyanese parentage.
Her physical attributes are on par with any other normal human being- two hands, two legs, one nose, one mouth et al. However, Amrita is constrained by a mental impediment known as ‘Down Syndrome,’ a condition that renders her mentally incapacitated.
Many others would have thrown up their hands in despair and lamented such ‘misfortune’ but Amrita is as different as she is special. This remarkable young woman has defied conventional wisdom and taken her impediment in stride, in the process conquering life’s vicissitudes.
Last year, after earning a spot on the Australian team to the12th Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai China, Amrita proved that disability is merely a myth and can be dispelled once one remains committed and prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.
The young Australian/Guyanese gymnast turned in one of the better performances at an international meet, winning one gold and three silver medals for her performance in gymnastics.
The 18-year-old competed in level one of the women’s artistic gymnastics competition which included routines on the beam, uneven bars, vault and floor.
She was awarded three silver medals for her performances on individual apparatus and the overall gold medal in her level. Amrita was among 125 Australian athletes selected to attend the games that hosted over seven thousand athletes from 169 countries.
‘Down Syndrome’ is a genetic disorder where those affected are born with an extra chromosome than other human beings.
This hinders the mental development of the affected person to the extent that simple tasks such as writing sentences or even analyzing minor concepts present agonizing difficulties.
Amrita was diagnosed with the disease just after birth. She had actually defied the statistical ratio of one in seven hundred to be infected by ‘Down Syndrome.’ From the onset Amrita’s parents knew that caring for their daughter would have been a challenging task.
Nevertheless, they committed themselves to the job and today their love has intensified even as Amrita continues to progress leaps and bounds.
In the beginning, Amrita found it difficult to keep up with the academic achievements of the other children in her class.
As a part of the remedial process, her parents, Surujpaul and Laksmi, decided to transfer her from that class and placed her among children of her capacity, to facilitate the integration process.
The teachers in her new class were trained to deal with persons of Amrita’s disposition. Instead of employing rigorous mathematical concepts and complicated English theories they dealt with practical vocations.
Amrita learnt the intricacies of managing her funds as well as self-sufficiency. She was also taught to prepare delicious cuisines, among other things. Amrita’s entry into the gymnastic world was purely by default.
Her dad related that she was initially a member of the school swimming team. Surujpaul further intimated that swimming and gymnastics form an integral aspect of the school curriculum thus facilitating a smooth transition.
“It really surprised me,” he said. “Amrita did not originate from a family that engaged in gymnastics so the hereditary notion is immediately cancelled out.”
However, he admitted that his daughter was always a fitness buff and attended yoga classes to hone her flexibility. She soon became adept in yoga routines and this suppleness made moving over into gymnastics, an academic endeavour.
Amrita took to gymnastics the way a fish takes to water and that is where her success story originated. In 2002, she was inaugurated into the new discipline and in 2006 she earned a call up for trials to the Shanghai games. She did not let the opportunity go to waste and in 2007 left for China. The rest, they say, is now history.
Amrita’s participation in the Shanghai Olympics was testing in several ways. Firstly, it marked the first time that she was on her own.
Coupled with that was the fact that she was in a foreign country participating among gymnasts from other territories like China, Great Britain, Canada, Ireland, and the USA among others.
Instead of daunting her spirits, the occasion served to strengthen her resolve. “Initially, I was very nervous but I quickly adjusted to my new environment,” the petite, soft-spoken gymnast intimated.
She also said that the Games allowed her to be more independent. What was even more remarkable was her ability to integrate among total strangers and even excel in her field.
My first meeting with Amrita was humbling as it was revealing. I have met people suffering with a mere influenza who had complained as though the world is about to end. Amrita was different.
She could have responded to her impediment in the most negative of ways. Instead, she took her lemon and made lemonade. The sweetness of the brew became apparent in Shanghai, China.
Amrita has impeccable manners, obviously the spin off from the special tutoring that she has received. If one listens carefully, he/she will detect a slight speech impediment. It was this deficiency that caused me to ask her to repeat some statements least they be misconstrued.
What was, however, obvious was that behind her words lie a deep conviction that she is human. Normal? No she is not! Disabled? Certainly not! Differently able? This is a more apt way to describe Amrita.
There is much more that she plans to achieve. She will not do it the way normal folks do but rest assured she will do it anyway.
It is difficult to conceptualize Amrita as she perfects the brilliant choreographed moves that distinguish her from her peers.
The Shanghai Olympics had a simple motto, ‘I know I can.’ For the physically competent individual, this motto presents no forebodings.
For someone of Amrita’s disposition, it is a challenge. It depends on whether you conceptualize the cup as half-full or half empty. For Amrita, the cup is neither; it is simply overflowing with abundant water.
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