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Paralympic fencer lends a hand to a photographer—literally!


bebe_vio | Instagram | Fair Use

Giovanna Binci - Paola Beletti - published on 09/13/21

Bebe Vio is a champion fencer with an indomitable will and the unusual characteristic of being a quadruple amputee.

Beatrice “Bebe” Vio is a 24-year-old Italian champion fencer with an unusual characteristic: She’s a quadruple amputee.

It sounds impossible, but using prosthetic arms and fencing from a wheelchair, she has beaten the odds—and her competitors—at Absolute Italian Championships, World Cups, European Championships, World Championships, and the Paralympic Games. She’s racked up a total of 53 gold medals, 9 silver medals, and 7 bronze medals.

She started fencing when she was just 5 years old. Then, in 2008, at the age of 11, she was struck by severe meningitis, which led to an infection in her legs and arms.

In order to save her life, doctors had to amputate her limbs (her legs at the knees and her arms at her elbows). Two years later she began fencing from a wheelchair.

Lending a hand

Her prostheses are an integral part of her life, but she’s willing to share. She lent one of her arms for a few minutes to a photographer so he could take some shots with the limb holding a billboard.

In a video she posted on Instagram, you can see the man at a distance taking the photos and then returning the prosthesis to the owner. Bebe comments, with her typical sense of humor, “Don’t worry, Gus! In times of difficulty I’ll always lend you a hand. You know, I’m always available.”

Lending even what you don’t have: this is something that we “able-bodied” people could never do. It reminds us that no, we are not the best at everything, even with two arms. 

Arms aren’t necessary

“When I was little, they told me that you can’t fence without arms and that I’d have to change sports, but I proved to everyone that arms aren’t necessary: if you have a dream, go for it,” Bebe said during the opening press conference of the Paralympics, as reported by the Dire news agency.

Indeed, she went for her dream in Rio and Tokyo. She won bronze and silver respectively in the team competitions and gold in individual competition both times at these two Paralympics.

In the meantime, she remains an undisputed champion of hope and humor. She’s become the ambassador not only of her sport, but of a new way of experiencing and seeing disability.

For her, it’s a normal thing. To quote another of her posts, “When you wake up in the morning and you get dressed fast, and you put on mismatched hands!”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Beatrice Maria Vio Grandis (@bebe_vio)

Bebe has accustomed us to a kind of humor that we would hesitate to indulge in, thinking we would be disrespectful to those who are different. Certainly, we have to take into account each person’s sensitivity when talking about disability or illness. Yet perhaps her approach helps normalize differences—without overdoing it, of course, as when dealing with anyone else: “OK, I’ll even let you make a joke about my belly …”

In the sacrosanct duty of addressing each person as they wish, disabled or not, and of respecting them, let’s remember that treating diversity with kid gloves always makes it something really taboo, distant, and aseptic.

Making limitations normal

Knowing how to have a sense of humor about our own limitations is what reminds us that yes, we have many—very many—of them. Sometimes they seem insurmountable, but complaining and beating ourselves up makes us sure to lose right out of the gate.

Maybe we won’t win, but we have to be like the bumblebee whose “wing structure is not suitable for flight, but she doesn’t know it and flies anyway,” as Bebe wrote just before leaving for Japan, in the caption for a photo of herself wearing a white suit and angel wings. 

And if Bebe lends a hand … er … arm for the photos, there’s someone in turn who always has her back: her sister, Sole. She, too, tags her in a post, writing, “Bebe, I think they stole a piece of you.”

Sister, bodyguard … or should we say: hand-guard! 

“Gold is tried in fire”

At the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games, Bebe won a gold medal competing against an excellent and worthy opponent, China’s Jingjing Zhou. It’s her second Paralympic medal of the most precious metal in her specialty, but it looks as if this particular trophy was cast from metal taken from an even higher quality gold vein.

Accept whatever befalls you,

and in times of humiliation be patient.

For gold is tested in the fire,

and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.

Sirach 2: 4-5

After her competition, she made public a reason why she was at risk of not participating in this edition of the Paralympic Games at all. Ansa reports her explanation:

“In April, I had a staph infection, which was so severe that they were looking at amputating my left arm and I could even have died. So it’s a miracle that I’m here, and this gold weighs much more than the one in Rio.” This is the shocking confession of Bebe Vio, who spoke to the media after her triumph in fencing at the Paralympics, also explaining her decision not to compete in saber. “It was a miracle and for this I have to thank the orthopedist who operated on me, his name is Accetta …, and all the staff who helped me prepare. A feat that seemed impossible. That’s why I cried so much,” she added.

This young woman, an athlete full of talent and endowed with a tenacity that seems unquenchable, continues to offer the world a show of strength and courage so convincing that it leaves no room for any cloying rhetoric. 

Acts of KindnessParalympics
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