female winner: UKR - Olena Iurkovska
Olena Iurkovska lived in a small isolated town called Makriv in Ukraine when she was a child. She was first introduced to Sitting Volleyball by a local coach and then later she was introduced to Cross Country sit skiing. She felt that living in a small town and having a disability (double leg amputation) limited opportunities for her. She was not able to go to school and so local teacher would teach her at home. This made her more isolated from the community. She thought that her teachers were not really interested in teaching her so as a result; her level of knowledge was very minimal. This bothered her because she wanted to learn more and envisioned herself as having a position in the society. She wanted to be a personality. She understood what it required to become one even at a very young age. But she felt she was deprived. Sports and the Paralympics changed that. It opened a new world for her.
Iurkovska says that she is satisfied with her achievements in sports. But her biggest achievement in her life is that she got involved in the Paralympics and had high accomplishments in both Sitting Volleyball and Nordic Skiing. She considers these as her lucky chance and she is very grateful to the people that gave her these opportunities. She embraced these opportunities and that changed her life. Before being involved in sports she was very closed, shy and not at all confident. The world of sports, her coach and her family have supported her to be changed into a person that she is now. It made her believe that she can be a personality … that she can improve herself with excellence. Iurkovska says: “my childhood was dark and now I have the whole world in front of me. And the world of Paralympics tells me, come and fight – achieve excellence and make the world better”. She says that this is not only in sports but in life as well. Her motto is 'from the victories in sports, to the victories in life'.
Iurkovska's success was not for free, but involved mush hard work. She says that she will continue to work hard and bring out her best in every challenge because that hard work and diligence only brings good results. She says that she always tries to keep her spirits up in every difficult situations because given the darkness of her childhood and where she is now, she believes that challenges are simply opportunities for self improvement and to make things better.
She claims that negative perception about people with disabilities still exists in Ukraine. She says that with her sports accomplishments, she would like to tell the world that every person with disability has the same strong will and determination and has the same potential as any able bodied person. Any negative perception about people with disability does not upset her any longer; but rather further encourages her to work harder and strives to be the best in order to change that perception. She believes that we all, with or without a disability, can make the world better.
Iurkovska dedicates her achievements in sports and in life to her friends, to her family and to her country, Ukraine. It represents the spirit of Ukraine. She says that it seems that perception of the world about Ukraine is rather subordinate and dark. She hopes that her achievements would change that perception.
male winner: USA - Lonnie Hannah
Lonnie Hannah started in sports as soon as he could walk. By the time he was 16 months old, he was roller-skating and he was chasing after his sister. He entered his first competition when he was just 4 years old and by the time he was 8 he was already a national skating champion. He focused his life around his passion, Roller-skating, until an accident at work, which resulted in his paralysis and seemed to end his Roller-skating dreams. But Hannah didn't let his disability keep him from pursuing new athletic dreams. He says that 'even though I couldn't use my legs, I could still compete'. While in rehabilitation, he learned of Wheelchair Tennis and within three months of his accident he was out on the Tennis court refocusing his dreams from Roller-skating to Tennis. After much success in Tennis he won several national titles. He learned of Ice Sledge Hockey and attended a demonstration camp in 1999 held in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. Instantly, Hannah was hooked and had found his next goal to make the USA Ice Sledge Hockey team and compete in 2002. By 2002 he accomplished his goal and was named on the USA Team for the Salt Lake 2002 Paralympic Winter Games. By the start of the Games, Hannah had risen from the bottom of the lineup to the starting Centre and the team's Assistant Captain.
After Hannah's accident when he was 20 years old, he was devastated, he thought his dreams of being an elite competitor and athlete, in speed roller-skating, were crushed. The Paralympics helped Hannah to hope for the future and taught him his true potential and inner strength. As a part of the triumph of the USA Ice Sledge Hockey team in the 2002 Winter Paralympics, he not only taught himself but all those who witnessed the Games the power we all have to reach our dreams.
After 2002, Hannah kept focused and training with the goal of a repeat gold medal in 2006, but when he was diagnosed in late 2004 with skin cancer, it was uncertain if that goal would be possible. Never one to get disheartened, Hannah kept this positive attitude, kept training with the team when possible, even while undergoing six months of chemotherapy. After surgery to remove the tumour and numerous chemotherapy treatments, Hannah was back and in full form. He tried out for and made the 2006 US Paralympic team and is currently still chasing his dream of a repeat gold medal. Hannah states that it was having the goal of competing in 2006 that kept him going through this treatments, gave him hope for a future and enabled him to continue to be a role model and leader to his team, inspiring them towards their 2006 goal.
Hannah has a unique gift of always being able to find the positive in any circumstance. He has shown through this sports and his recent bout with skin cancer the true power of a positive attitude. He states, "I appreciate the things I have rather than what I don't have. I try to focus on things I can do rather than worry about the things I can't do." His teammates all affirm Hannah's talent of inspiring them to never give up and to find the best in whatever situation they find themselves. Joe Howard the Team Captain states "If his cancer didn't stop him, nothing is going to stop us. He is our inspiration I know if Lonnie hadn't come back we wouldn't be the team we are today."