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Rising Phoenix: Heroes come to the Paralympics

November 13th, 2020

Rising Phoenix: Heroes come to the Paralympics
A cinematic review by Caroline

Knowing the thrill of the Paralympics first-hand is one that only the most dedicated adaptive sports athletes will experience, but Rising Phoenix makes a great effort of bringing each of us into the elite and intense journey that leads to Paralympic achievement.

Rising Phoenix follows nine athletes through their journeys to both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympics. We are given the honor of hearing each athlete reflect on how the history and purpose of the Paralympic Games have been relevant to their own lives. They each share their personal journey to becoming an elite athlete and consider how sports have equipped them to live life to its fullest potential.

The first athlete viewers are introduced to, Bebe Vio, is the source of the film’s title. As a child, Vio underwent amputation of both forearms and legs. Her fencing teammates experienced her whole journey right alongside her—from fencing, to illness, and fencing once again—naming her the Rising Phoenix, because the Phoenix can burn, die, and live again.

Tatyana McFadden, 17-time Paralympic medalist representing the United States in Track and Field (and a friend of Turnstone's), is another featured athlete and also a co-producer of the film. With a passion to make adaptive sports embraced around the world, McFadden is hopeful that this movie will be a catalyst of awareness and education regarding the Paralympics.

“I really think that this film is going to change the world,” McFadden shared in an interview with Team USA. “I think that people will get a new perception on what Paralympics is.”

A goal for McFadden and the other producers was to share the legacy of the Paralympic Games and how they simply began with one man’s dream. Dr. Ludwig Guttmann was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and revolutionized the care of spinal cord injury patients at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. As a part of his new care approach, Dr. Guttmann insisted on getting those with spinal cord injuries out of bed and competing in sport. 

In 1948, as the London Olympics were underway, Dr. Guttman hosted 16 individuals with disabilities to compete in an archery demonstration. Those individuals became the first Paralympians, and from that year forward the Games continued to only grow to what we see today with hundreds of athletes earning Paralympic status during the Winter and Summer games that now follow every Olympic Games.

However, despite its growth and the elite level of competition, the Paralympics have fought to be accepted and celebrated as an equivalent to the well-known Olympic Games. Rising Phoenix highlights the unfortunate and undeserved lack of equality the athletes are still fighting to overcome.

While Rising Phoenix honors the spirit of the Paralympic Games, it also is a very clear reflection of the larger challenge people with disabilities face throughout the world. The stories told through the documentary challenge viewers to consider the perceptions and misperceptions many of us hold of people with disabilities in all areas of life beyond sports. Films like Rising Phoenix add to the ongoing conversation and the building movement of embracing, empowering and valuing the richness people with disabilities add to the human experience.

As former President of the International Paralympic Committee, Xavi Gonzalez puts it, “The Olympics are where the heroes are created, the Paralympics are where the heroes come.”

Rising Phoenix does a beautiful job of enlightening viewers of the personal journey to becoming a Paralympic athlete, the rich history of the Games, and the work that still remains for diversity and inclusion throughout the world. As the anticipation builds for the re-scheduled Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, take a moment to learn more about the Paralympics and the individuals that have, and continue to, make them exceptional.

Rising Phoenix is available to stream on Netflix. 

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