My disability to walk never stopped me to do anything in life, but society did on several occasions. We are living in a world where not being young and healthy are punished as the ultimate faults and sins.

A disability is any kind of condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do a variety of activities or interact with the world. There are a plethora of conditions that make a person unable to live a normal life. Also, a lot of disabilities are not obvious and society tends to treat people with special needs with a well-behaved discomfort.

That’s the painful truth. Nobody wants or wishes to be a disabled person. Unfortunately, although most countries are doing their very best to establish better living conditions for the majority of disabled people, the society and communities around them are not always open-minded or respectful towards them.

Let’s take my case as an example. Only my close family members and friends know that I have a severe disability both in my arms and legs. The last 20 years had been a living hell due to tremendous pain in the bones and joints. Every morning, my days start with a certain set of exercises just to make my joints function. For every step I take, the pain is killing my brain little by little. In the good days I can walk without the help of my cane, but in the bad days … let’s say that I have the time to read all the new books that are published each year, lying in my chair or my bed.

You may wonder, why I share this personal story today. Today, 3 December, is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). It was about time to unveil my bittersweet story about my disability. Everything started 20 years ago but an innocent question, from a colleague, triggered the decision to share my life story.

Why did you stop running?

That was an innocent question from a kind colleague to me, an ex-professional marathon runner. He didn’t know that I used to run long-distance marathons from 15 years old up to 28.

This innocent question broke me into pieces.

I stared at the corner with all the medals on the wall, the pictures with my country’s flag on my shoulder and I remembered the breeze into my hair when I was running long distance marathons. The first time I won a silver medal in a marathon I was only 15 yrs old. In the following years, I had the privilege to run in global events all over the world. Now I only have the medals on the wall, next to all the photographs. Next to my cane.

My big dream was to participate in The Athens Classic Marathon The Authentic. It is perhaps the most difficult major marathon race: the course is uphill from the 10km mark to the 31 km mark – the toughest uphill climb of any major marathon. The course begins in the town of Marathon, where it passes the tomb of the Athenian soldiers, and it traces a path near the coast through Nea Makri. Following the steep rise, the course goes slightly downhill towards the city of Athens. It passes a statue of a runner in the city center before finishing up at the Panathinaiko Stadium.

Although I was traveling often, I had never skipped any of my training sessions. I still remember the excitement when I had my physical exams before my registration as an official athlete. When I was 28, the unthinkable happened. The medical exams gave me the worst news ever: a rare autoimmune disease was melting my bones.

Running was out of the question for the rest of my life.

I wanted to die.

It took me many years and tremendous effort to accept my disability. Since then, in the good days I can walk on my own. In the bad days I need support just to stand on my feet. But, my dream to cover by foot the distance between Marathon and Athens, kept me active.

Back in 2014, my family and my friends helped me to walk from Marathon to the Panathinaiko Stadium. With the support of my cane, my two weak legs and my fearless heart, I walked the original Marathon Route 26.2 miles(42.17 km) in 12 hours and 50 minutes.

I can not run anymore but I can walk with the help of my cane.

And I have never stopped since that day.

Today, I collected all my medals in a paper box and gave them away. My colleague’s question made me realize that this wall needs new medals.

In a way I am grateful to this person because I am willing to sign up for the 10K next Athens Marathon in Greece, happening on 14 November 2021.

We all have the strength to do the best we can when everything goes south.

People With Disabilities The Unseen Everyday Heroes
People With Disabilities The Unseen Everyday Heroes

Athens Authentic Marathon 2021

The next Athens Authentic Marathon in 2021 will be held on Sunday 14 November 2021.

My big dream is to reach the 10k finish line without my cane.

The Athens Authentic Marathon brings history to life. And willing to finish in the legendary stadium where the first Olympic games of the modern era in 1896 took place, gives me a new purpose.

It won’t be easy but everything is doable.

It wasn’t my choice and for sure I am not responsible for the damages that happened to my body. I can not change the DNA that my parents gave me but I can change the way I react and act towards my disability. I have learned to live well with it. And as everyone else I have the right to live without obstacles or feeling guilty for my disability.

I am responsible for the quality of my life and for all the choices I make for showing that disability is not a problem of the body but of a society that fails to accept different bodies. That is the reason why I am going to run in the Athens Authentic Marathon 2021.

That’s the true spirit of the Athens Marathon. Dignity. Courage. Humanity.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD)

Press Release by WHO

3 December is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). On this Day WHO joins partners to celebrate “a day for all”. This theme reflects a growing understanding that disability is part of the human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life. Despite this, few countries have adequate mechanisms in place to respond fully to the needs of people with disabilities.

In 2020, the UN’s theme was “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”. WHO supported this theme by underlining the importance of fostering an inclusive culture and responding to the urgent needs of people with disabilities in all aspects of society, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key messages

  • Disability is part of the human experience.
  • WHO recognizes that a world where all people attain the highest possible standard of health and well-being is only possible if health systems are inclusive of people with disability.
  • People with disability have been amongst the most vulnerable populations during the current COVID-19 outbreak due to many health, social and environmental barriers, discriminatory attitudes and inaccessible infrastructure.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique opportunity to build back better our health systems so that they are more inclusive and responsive to the needs and human rights of people experiencing disability in all their diversity.
  • Countries need to shift towards a service delivery system rooted in the communities, reaching out and empowering people with disability

International Day of Persons with Disabilities campaign website

This is a day for ALL people!

Everything is doable - Areti Vassou

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