Beyond disability, we see the person

The story of Beatrice "Bebe" Vio is widely known in Italy as well as abroad. Recently, she achieved being flag bearer for Italy at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. But there is so much more to uncover.

Not everyone would survive meningitis and a limb amputation. Bebe Vio survived the amputation of all four limbs, at the age of only 11.

Not everyone would keep practicing sports following a major physical and mental trauma. Bebe Vio carried on with her fencing career to become Italian paralympic champion in the foil discipline.

Being a sport enthusiast, in the last few years, I have followed Bebe Vio's success closely, but what I find most interesting is her ability to transform weakness into strength. Her story has inspired me, on several occasions, in seeing challenges from a new perspective, turning adversity into opportunity, and redefining my priorities and the way I come to see myself.

This is, what I call, the Bebe Vio effect. Her strength lies in her smiles, her self-irony, her will to set an example and help others to overcome obstacles similar to those she had to face in her life. By overcoming every challenge thrown at her, she has established herself as a shining example of courage and determination for millions of people and athletes worldwide, with or without a disability.

Bebe is quoted on her website as saying, "Lo sport è un mezzo di cambiamento e integrazione" (Sport is a way of change and integration), and these words have become a mantra in her life. Driven by the idea of creating a safe and accepting sporting environment, in 2021, she founded the Bebe Vio Academy, which gives young people between 6 and 18 years old the chance to experience paralympic sports. Not only does the project elicit a sense of belonging in children, helping them to find a way to engage as part of a community, but it also supports those without a disability to experience the world of paralympic sports.

"Sport is a way of change and integration"

Her vision is a real gamechanger in the industry, considering that impairment is too often perceived as an insurmountable barrier to dreams and goals. What strikes me is her revolutionary approach to disability. In her view, disability becomes an essential trait of her new identity. Bebe's contribution is not limited to helping people with disabilities to embrace this part of their being; her aim is to normalize it, whether people have a physical impairment or not. The impressive aspect of this vision is that invites everyone to take notice of and engage with their community. It provides an opportunity to take up the pursuit of goals and dreams, assimilating or reassimilating into society after an injury.

Bebe's website presents many inspiring stories of young people who did not let their disabilities get in the way of fulfilling their dreams  - even to the extent of achieving international fame as athletes. These powerful stories remind me every day that what defines us as individuals is determination and passion, rather than a focus on obstacles or perceived deficiencies. The most powerful life lessons are the ones taught by tangible examples, and this is exactly what Bebe, and everyone who is around her, provides.

It all started with her vision: sport as an instrument to overcome barriers, physical and psychological, and to promote an environment where diversity is embraced and enhanced. Motivated by her personal goal to grow the paralympic movement in Italy, Bebe dreams that one day it will reach the same popular level as the Olympic Games. This may seem a step too far; however, according to Bebe: "Se sembra impossibile, allora si può fare!"

"If it looks impossible, then you can do it!"