The Hero behind the Heroes

An immature idea has grown up and the result was a personal blog. Later this idea transformed into a sports club and became a strong team, a warm group of people with different problems but same needs and common targets. Inspirer and creator were Alexandros Karaiosif, Adapted Physical Education Teacher, Sport Scientist and Para Athletes Trainer. Thanks to him and his love for sports and –disable- people, was founded in Veria, Greece, in 2014 the Para Sports Club “En Somati Ygiei”. The aim of the club is to introduce disable people in adapted physical activities, to improve their fitness level, to promote their sociality and fellowship in accordance with the fundamental principles of sportsmanship and “fair play”. The story behind the idea…the man behind the idea…

In which moment of your life, you decided to become an Adapted Sports Trainer?

When I was in my 3rd year of my undergraduate studies in the Department of Physical Education & Sport Science in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, we were asked to choose which major specialization we wanted to follow in our 4th –and last- year of studies. In fact, major specialization is the one that sets you apart and give to a graduate professional rights as a coach beyond the title Physical Education Teacher. Because of its nature, the number of students who could take this specialization is relatively small and you had to have some prerequisite courses in order to attend. Thus, the decision was not on the moment, but a conscious choice after mature thought. Beside that the subject is quite board and interesting, I took seriously in mind the career development that I might be able to have. In addition, I strongly believe that anyone who works with disable people or special education in general, is mainly motivated by internal motivation and a willingness to contribute to the community and the society.

Was the Para Sports Club a primary target or it came through later?

“En Somati Ygiei” was not the primary target. It wasn’t even in my mind to found a Para Sports Club. It all started as a personal blog, where I posted my own scientific articles about exercise, rehabilitation, paralympic sports, adapted physical activity and school physical education that I had shared in other websites in the past. It all started in October 2013, at a time when I was practically unemployed, so I had plenty of spare time. Soon, recognizing the absence that existed in the city of Veria and in Imathia’s Prefecture in general, in such a thematic blog, I transformed my personal blog into a dynamic website for topics such as physical activity, exercise and health and adapted sports. I assume that people liked it, because of the geometric increase in my website’s monthly single views. The first athletic activity was the participation of “En Somati Ygiei” with its own running team in the 9th International Marathon “Alexander the Great” in Thessaloniki in April 2014. Telling the truth, we borrowed our brand name in an informal team of football referees, the Referee Team. This is how the idea to convert “En Somati Ygiei” from a website to a Sports Club was born, after finding capable friends to support me in the fist difficult steps. The full name of the club is “Sports Club for Cultural Development of Adapted and Amateur Sports “En Somati Ygiei” with the main purpose being the development of cultural education stemming from physical activities of people with disabilities, but mainly the modification of people’s behavior towards people with any kind of disability and through the actions and successes of disable athletes -and-fellow citizens. It is difficult but not impossible.

Tell us some reasons for someone to become a member of the Club.

The members of the Club divided into two categories. Members of the different sport departments (athletes with disabilities) and board members. However, according to the current sports law, an athlete with disability, can also be an administrative member. If we talk about an adult with disability, it is a great opportunity to do something that he or she probably has been excluded so far. He or she, becomes part of a group of people with similar experiences, member of a sports club, participates in trainings and competitions in different parts of Greece, stay at luxuries hotel and has extermely big chances of being distinguished, at least at national level. If we talk about parents with children with some kind of disability, I believe that through sports, self-confidence will be stimulated, all his or her motor skills will be improved and utilized. Moreover, the earlier that someone starts to practice a paralympic sport, the greater are the chances of developing his skills and participating in major competitions aboard. A great example of what I am saying is Konstantinos Petrakis. In addition I would like to add that the State gives exactly the same priviledges to para-athletes as the olympic sports athletes, if they have great victories in major competitions. A board member of the club can become anyone who thinks that everything we do has a reason to exist and can offer any special knowledge may have for club’s further development and progress. For me, love and support from ordinary people, is enough.

Have you ever had to defend an athlete of yours?

The primary purpose of the club is to defend the right of our fellow citizens with disabilities, to be able to be fully integrated into the political, cultural, sports and economic life of the place through their non-exclusion from the very simple things, such as access to public service, acces to hospitals, easy acces to stores etc., and some things that are obvious for people without disabilities such as work rights, making family etc.. In other words, a life with decent quality. Except of our athlete-coach relationship, we have also developed relationships of mutual trust. I have personally been called upon to defend them mainly in cases where other people treat them or speak with pity for them. Of course, this is something I have not mentioned again for obvious reasons, and they will probably read it through this interview.

Due to your experience, do you think that the Greek State gives motivation to people with disabilities to engage in sports?

Telling the truth, in comparison with olympic sports (non-disability sports) there is some substantial help. The Greek Sport Federation for Person with Disabiliies, covers all the expenses (transportation and accomodoation) of all the atletes and coaches taking part in the greek championships. If this stops, probably will be the end of paralympic sports in Greece. There is a also a State fund according its club successes in national and international level, only for those clubs who have the Special Sports Recognition from the General Secretariat of Sports, which is granted only if a Sport Club meets certain criteria. “En Somati Ygiei” -like all the other sports clubs in Greece- is a non-profit organization, achieved the Special Sports Recognition in November 2018 and so far it has not received any State or subsidy from any other source.

Has the local community recognized your action?

Veria is a provincial town, and like other small communities has similar aspects to disability issues. There are cities that constitutes models for approaching, caring for and dealing with persons witrh disabilites. Veria, has made great progress in the recent years, but it is still far from being an example for someone to follow. Recognition by the local community comes with steady steps. “En Somati Ygiei” is a relatively new sports club, and as it is normal, many people still don’t know it, but there are some people who know it but ignore it ostentatiously. Fortunately, recognition comes from afar and from very important organizations. In any case, no one is a prophet in his place.

Recently, you personally and “En somatic Ygiei” achieved a great distinction. Do you want to tell us something about this?

The University of Patras, Greece, with seven other organization and/or Universities from all over Europe, worked on a three-years scientific Erasmus+ Sports Project entitled “Equal Sport For All” – ESFA in order to release for the first time in Europe, training guidelines for coaches of persons with disabilities, aiming these guides to be a free accessible lifelong training tool for both coaches and people belong to these special groups. As part of this program, an award was established with sports equipment as a prize for the “Best Practices in Promoting the Equality of Persons with Disabilities in Sports” and was addressed to organizations/associations/clubs involved in the Sports of Persons with Disabilities. “En Somati Ygiei” nomination received the highest score among the other nominees, after being judged by five different judges from the Universities that participated in the ESFA Erasmus+ Sport Project. The criteria considered were: a) The overall image of the candidacy folder. b) The innovative actions introduces by the candidate and c) The effect of his actions on the promotion of sports in people with disabilities in the his local cmmunity. The recognition that “En Somati Ygiei” received from academic institutions, is a major event, both for the sports club and for the local community of Veria. Veria is a provincial town and should be proud to have such Sport Clubs. “En Somati Ygiei” operates in a proper and professional manner, without pathogens and expediencies. For me personally, with one word, is justificasion. However, I hope that for the local society of Veria, this will be the beginning of a serious and coordinated effort of cooperation of all the respective unions, clubs and institutions of vulnerable population groups, since we are all fighting for a common goal.

Behind every TV show there is a whole crew, sound engineers, cameramen, the director and so on. Behind each book works a team from the text editor to the publisher and marketing manager. Behind “En somati Ygiei” and the successes of its athletes is the thought, the soul and the action of Alexandros. His selfless offer, hard and constant work combined with his faith in people, gave the disable people in our area a club especially for them. Offered them the opportunity to do sports, he gave them motivation, he gave them hope. An idea, a spark is enough and the fire will ignite. And it is, these invisible heroes who keep the flame burning. The heroes behind the heroes…

“There are no ideas, there are only people who carry the ideas, and these ideas, take the stature of the person who carries them…” Nikos Kazantzakis

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