The Paralympic Paradox - with Saysky athlete Christian Lykkeby Olsen
Christian grew up surrounded by friends and family that never saw him as being handicapped, but as just having his right arm pulled up in a more unnatural position while exercising. Christian also never saw himself like that, as he never felt that his condition hampered him in any way.
This reality changed when he was suddenly selected by Team Danmark to represent Denmark in the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
“I was rather sceptical when asked to join the Danish national paraathlete team.”
One of the best in the world
With this, Christian was forced to change the view he held of himself, as suddenly he became something by virtue of his disability. From this point on, he has been invited to compete in championships internationally, and is now considered to be amongst the best in the world in his category (T46).
In Tokyo, he represented Denmark in the 1,500m event, where he placed 7th overall. Christian now focuses on all distances, all the way down to the 1,500m events, but has his eyes set on the marathon.
“Putting on the red and white national uniform really aroused a formerly unencountered patriotic pride and responsibility - and simultaneously my self-perception was distorted. For the first time in my life I was chosen only due to my impairment.”
Read the full interview with Christian to learn more about his story, and his personal battle and disability. As you read through, you will get an idea of Christian’s approach to the sport and life at large.
How did you get started in running?
Like many others, I played a lot of football and handball during my childhood and adolescence. But during my year at Koldingegnens Idrætsefterskole, I first encountered running a bit more seriously and systematically. I maintained a somewhat average running form during my High School years. In my gap year, I ran a Marathon with my running teacher from Grundtvigs Højskole in a decent but not flashy 3:21:00.
Starting at university didn’t contribute to keeping up a good training rhythm. But luckily, my good friend Jacob started in Sparta at Østerbro. And due to his impressive progression, I felt urged to do something similar myself.
Starting in Sparta in 2018 was game-changing in many ways. First of all, I felt included in a quite competitive but still friendly and engaging environment. Secondly, I experienced the same quick and addictive progression as my friend Jacob, which meant that I went from just sub 42 min on a 10k to sub 37 within half a year. I haven’t been looking back from there on, and I’m still running in Sparta, getting more and more quality training and companionship.
When did you first become aware of your disability?
Being born with an impairment (in partum) makes it difficult to tell when I first became aware of it. More precisely, my impairment is named Duchenne Erb’s palsy. A nerve condition in the shoulder and arm resulting in weakness or loss of muscle function. From a broader perspective, my impairment is rather small. And due to my parents bringing me up without any special treatment, I didn’t really consider myself disabled during my childhood and youth. But, of course, I was aware of my impairment all along, especially in a vain manner during my first teenage years.
You mentioned that you never considered yourself to be handicapped when you were growing up. So how did you feel when you were selected to represent Denmark at the Tokyo Paralympics? And how did that affect your personal view of yourself (both as a person and as a runner)?
Due to my self-perception of not being disabled, I was somewhat sceptical when asked to join the Danish national para-athlete team. Primarily due to my ignorance. I didn’t know what it was and who was included in the diverse category of ‘para-athletes’. To my surprise, para-athletic is an immensely broad concept. Nevertheless, joining the national team has been a life-changing experience.
Putting on the red and white national uniform spurred a formerly unencountered patriotic pride and responsibility - while simultaneously distorting my self-perception. For the first time in my life, I was chosen only due to my impairment. A form of affirmative action I so far had rejected and avoided. The unavoidable and somewhat delayed reflection made me realise that an impairment does result in a disability in some contexts. And for me, that was quite the horizon widening.Both in sports and life in general, impairments sometimes equal disability, so special measures are required. In sports, it’s necessary to separate competition to make it fair, and in society, universal design and aids are required to contain and reduce barriers. But, like many other things in life, it’s impossible to unsee it again if it’s first seen. Therefore, I now characterise myself as a para-athlete and an observer of unfair or disabling societal institutions and structures.
We put “Fast Has No Gender” on our previous collection – You have brought up that you somewhat relate to this statement in your own way, shifting it to “Fast Is For Everyone”; could you elaborate on that?
Saying “Fast Is For Everyone” means that anyone, despite impairments of any kind, can and should exercise in the sports they like. And for me, the meaning can be seen as dual. Firstly, you always have to consider the starting point when judging a sports performance. This is because the speed and level of fast can be relative and quite varying. Secondly, being the fastest edition of yourself does, in some instances, require societal support in the form of aids and easily accessible training facilities. Nevertheless, I think running should be for everyone, and I hope that people now and in the future will respect and judge para-athletics based on their qualifications. It can be compared to the naturalised differentiation and inclusion between juniors and seniors and between men and women, meaning that a para athletic record should be seen and acknowledged in its own right.
Your story is truly inspiring and a clear example of grit and perseverance. What do you think runners can do to take away from your personal journey?I hope that my story, connected with many other para-athletes, can inspire people with impairments to get started in sports and aspire for more if they are already in business. So aim for the sky and just do it anyway! And hopefully, more will join the national team along the way, knowing that para-athletics is for everyone, whether you have a small or larger impairment.
What events are up next for you?
On the 28th of May, I will be running a 1.500m international para-athletics competition in Switzerland. Then, next summer, I will be running in the para-athletic world Championships in Paris and hopefully also in the Paris 2024 Paralympics. In between, I will be running longer distances in “normal-athletics” in Denmark, 5-10 km, and maybe even a Half Marathon or two.
Personal BestsHalf Marathon: 69:10
10 km: 31:13
5 km: 15:17
1500 m: 4:00:16
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