Not just paralympic athletes: Arjola Dedaj

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Athlete Arjola Dedaj in the foreground

With the Paralympics approaching, we couldn’t let go of the opportunity of interviewing some of the blind athletes taking part to the  games.

Today we’ll get to know one of the athletes representing Italy in the athletics team.

Arjola Dedaj is a blind paralympic athlete born in Tirana (Albania) in 1981. She’s been visually impaired from birth because of retinitis pigmentosa and now the only thing she can perceive with her eyes is the difference between light and darkness.
Despite her troubled past, Arjola never lost heart and, once she arrived in Italy, decided to changer her life: sports activities became a central part of her life and she started dancing and playing baseball for the blind. She finally makes her debut in athletics in 2012.

But what are her dreams and what are the results she obtained thanks to sports? Here are some questions we asked Arjola:

1) What was your childhood dream? What did you want to become?

I wanted to be a detective, but I knew it was impossible, especially because of my disability.
However, my perspective changed a lot since a was a child. Blindness affected very negatively both my childhood and my adolescence because in Albania, which is my home country, disabled people are not seen as useful to society and they are commiserated. As a result, I felt discouraged and useless. Luckily, the culture in Italy is very different, it is more open and respectful about disability. In Albania I used to try and hide my blindness, and at first I could because I was partially sighted and I could still see something but this complicated my childhood and adolescence, two periods of life that are already not easy for everyone.

As a child I would have never imagined to get where I am today. [Albania] lacked all means, there was no technology, there were no solutions for visually disabled people, teachers were not prepared to give me alternatives and also with the time passing hopes began to fade.

At 17, I arrived in Italy, and I have not made any effort to integrate. Surely I have been facilitated because I already knew the language but, ironically, I felt more integrated in Italy than in my home country.

2) Who was your mentor?

I have not had a single mentor, but many people during the course of my life who helped and supported me, people who I took as an example. I met many of them at the Institute for the Blind in Milan, others in sport events, like Francis, baseball teammate and other athletes who participated at the Paralympics.
I received many stimuli by people who had my disability; they have led me to think that I could make it too, in daily life and in sports.
Knowing the Institute for the Blind opened a new world, full of information and ideas, and I realized that I too could play an important role in society. I understood that everyone has different skills that they must be able to develop.

3) Ambition or talent? What do you think it is most important?

It takes both. Talent is important but if you have the talent and not the ambition, usually, it’s hard to get to the top. Conversely, if you have ambition but you have no talent, you can train a lot without achieving the desired results. A little bit of talent never hurts, just as luck. I would not say that one is more important than the other, you have to have both, “fifty-fifty“.

4) What is the role of sport in your life?

My life today is centered around sports. It takes up most of my days, especially now, before an important competition like the Paralympic Games in Rio; we athletes are completely absorbed.
I’m lucky because at work they support me completely, I had to ask for a 4 months leave to be able to train and they granted them without problems.
I train 8-9 times a week, about 5-6 hours a day. Afterward, I am too tired to do other work activities. Rest and physical therapy are, in fact, an integral part of a sportsman life and for no reason they should be overlooked.
Obviously it remains very little time for everything else. For the moment, I’m sacrificing work and family for sport.

5) What is the strangest thing that happened to you during a competition?

There were no particular incidents, only several misadventures.
The first that comes to mind is when I raced with a pair of shoes without insoles. It seemed to me that shoes were not fitting properly, and only after the race I realized that something was missing.

6) What has been your biggest success so far?

It is not here yet. The success is to be found in what I like, it can be in the family, at work or anywhere else we care.
Right now I’m very pleased with the achievements. Currently my career is sport, I am focused on it and I do my best. For me athletics is neither just duty nor just pleasure, it is a mixture of the two. In particular, I love the long jump, I would continue to jump to infinity, like a child. In fact, is my specialty race.

7) What has been your biggest disappointment so far?

I have not had great disappointments, not even thinking back to my difficult past in Albania. Small disappointments yes, like everyone else of course, but they are just banal, to list them would be stupid and selfish.

8) Do you have a smartphone? What are your favourite apps?

I use an iPhone for convenience, because it has all I need. I would be interested in trying new devices but for the moment I feel good with this phone, having started with it. Maybe I should research more on other smartphones on the market.
I live in the “frantic Milan” and so I need to have immediate information on everything and my smartphone is very useful for this.
I often use Siri, even as a joke. I ask directly to “her” to do researches and write messages although sometimes it does not understand what I say and gives vent to his free interpretation. Sometimes I risk of making a blunder if I do not check what she wrote. For example, it does not recognize the word Paralympics and whenever writes “words standing”.
Apart from the normal navigation apps, movement and Whatsapp, I do not use special apps.
Even for trips within the city I usually ask passers-by; it is a “tool” that for now has not yet vanished.

9) Is there a particular technology that helps you during your everyday life?

Smartphone for most immediate things, search for information or addresses, messaging etc … For long or detailed jobs definitely prefer the computer.

10) Do you use any app to track your sport performances?

As per performance monitoring, we sprinters do not really need them, such apps are more useful for those who do endurance races, for us it is only a few seconds race.
An app that I found useful during workouts is the one that gives me the green light while I am at the starting blocks.

11) What do you expect from your participation to the Paralympics?

I never make predictions for good luck. I will try to do my best, taking advantage of all the preparation of these four years. What I expect is what I will give at the race. I’ll give everything then will come what will come!
No doubt the Paralympics in Rio are a big goal and a dream for me and my boyfriend Emmanuel, who is also a Paralympic athlete sprinter, specializing in the 400 meters.
We met on the competition field three and a half years ago and last year we decided to tell our story on the website with the hashtag #roadtorio.

Picture of Emanuele and Arjola running on a track with the inscription "Road to Rio" overlaid

Source: Facebook Profile Arjola Dedaj

Arjola was the first national team member to get on the track, unfortunately, she failed to qualify for the 100 meters semifinals, but she has yet to compete in the 200 meters and long jump. We congratulate you on your achievements and wish you good luck for the continuation of the Paralympic Games!

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Sofia Zuccalà
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Sofia Zuccalà

I'm a 23 years old MSc student in Communication of Science and Sustainable Innovation and I am a communication lover. I have a BSc in Communication, Innovation and Multimedia and at the moment I'm writing for several blogs about technology, science and current news.
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