“The Games are the dream of every athlete”: at the Federal Handisport Center in Talence, Maïa Strasser and around twenty young athletes aged 15 to 21 are pursuing their Paralympic dream, focused on Paris-2024 and beyond.
On the Creps athletics track, in the Bordeaux area, a dozen athletes are warming up on small hurdles. Some have suffered amputations. Others like Maïa, 16, have a motor disability. But all perform the same exercise.
“Even if they have different disabilities, they have to try to avoid falling into a situation of failure linked to their pathology”, explains Éric Vauvert, coach of the athletics center at the Federal Handisport Center which also hosts a tennis center. table and basket-chair.
“Come scratch the ground. Come on!” While her fellow trainers practice the long jump, Maïa works on her sprint technique. In sight, a qualification in the 100 and 200 meters at the World Para-Athletics Championships in July, before considering participation in the Paralympic Games. An obsession for the young sprinter: “Since I started athletics, I think about it, it’s always in the back of my mind.”
For Maéva Olivier, the ambition is the same. Suffering from quadriplegia, the 18-year-old table tennis player lets go, one hand on the left wheel of her wheelchair to move around, and the other strapped to her racket because she does not have “a lot of sensitivity and strength for the hold”.
In November, she will participate in her first international competition and will aim for a Paralympic qualification. “Paris-2024 is a dream and revenge for my handicap. I want to take up this challenge” only three years after starting table tennis.
“Maéva has made enormous progress”, underlines Florian Raillard, coach of the table tennis division. After having started against able-bodied athletes, she joined the center two years ago and benefits from coaching adapted to disabled sports.
“In his handicap class, we favor the placement of the ball in spaces where the opponent cannot go”, rather than the fast game of able-bodied table tennis players, analyzes Florian Raillard. “The coaches have disabled training, they give us appropriate advice and that helps us perform,” adds Maéva.
“Before arriving at the center, I only trained twice a week in my club. I could not progress, remembers Maïa Strasser. Here, I practice every day and I have a school schedule arranged “.
Access to high level
“Our role is to accompany them on a dual sports and school project so that they can reach the French teams for hopefuls and then seniors” mainly with a view to the Paralympic Games 2028 and 2032, explains Bastien Drobniewski, coordinator of the Federal Handisport Center which since 2011 has been recruiting young athletes across the country.
Originally from Strasbourg, Modeste Hoffbeck joined the center last August to join the wheelchair basketball centre. Aged only 17, he is instead aiming for the Los Angeles Games in 2028.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had the Olympics goal in mind. And I think the center is the best place to progress,” explains the basketball player, who trains all week with the France U23 team. . “We are accompanied by our coach, the manager of the pole, we have access to physiotherapists. It is a driving force” to reach the high level.
Arrived at the Federal Handisport Center four years ago, wheelchair athlete Yasser Musanganya, 20, believes he has “made enormous physical but also psychological progress”. “The key point of the center is really the accompaniment”, he underlines.
Senior French champion in the 100, 400 and 800 meters, he will aim for the minimums for the Paralympic Games in May in Switzerland. “Paris-2024 is a real springboard for us, it’s the +Champions League+ of disabled sports”, but above all it’s a “step to take” for this athlete with both legs amputated who dreams of becoming a model for young athletes, whether able-bodied or not.