Sports offer a different horizon, says Italian athlete of disability at military games

Roberto Punzo, an Italian solder who attended the archery competition sitting on a wheelchair in 7th Military World Games, received the best of applauses and respect from the local spectators all through his contest.

Punzo, who had taken part in two Para Badminton European Championships and two Para Badminton World Championships before coming to Wuhan, a city on Yangtze River in central China, to join with more than 9,300 athletes from 109 countries for the multiple sports event.

“I was serving as a UN military observer and on the border, the so called Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon,” Punzo recalled the darkest day of his life. “13 year has been gone. It was on 22rd of July in 2006, I was shot by a sniper.”

Punz said when he woke up in a hospital in Israel, he found a lot of service men and service women were wounded severely.

“Of course, it was not easy. You understand what’s going on, and you try your best to recover. But it’s not easy for my wife and daughter,” Punzo said that his backbone was fractured, and he had seven surgical operation in the first year.

In 2007, Punzo had three lessons of archery, but it was not the right time for him to start when he was in the very dark period. “Because when you lose the control of parts of your body, you lose confidence,” Punzo noted.

With the help of sport activities, Punzo regained confidence little by little not only physically, but also mentally. “The value of sport is you fight against yourself. You get out from your home to plan your daily activity with a goal. It is something that gives you a different horizon,” Punzo underlined the importance of practising sports for the disabled.

He has a clear memory for the first time that he hit the shuttlecock. “I was laughing loudly and my family saw me with smiling. Before that, I didn’t know I could do some things on the wheelchair. I even didn’t try it before,” Punzo talked about his stories of recovering.

The 55-year-old soldier met his wife since they were schooling. They enjoyed a good relationship in the past 40 years. “She did a great job. Without her support, I won’t be on the site of competition,” Punzo said.

According to him, in Italy, the servicemen and women who got injured may have the opportunity of getting back on duty after recovery. With the support of Italian Ministry of Defense, Punzo is always provided by practicing sports. In 2010, he put on the uniform and went back to work as a public information officer.

Since Paralympic Games was held in 1960s, troops in the world began to realize the importance of using sport as a rehabilitation tool. Punzo told his first world championship was Para Badminton World Championship in Britain. It is also the second time for him to attend the Military World Games.

More than 200 Italian athletes attended the Games this year, including five with disabilities. Among them, two participated in archery and three in shot putting.

“We are here to send the message in Military Games held in Wuhan that we are together on the same shooting line with the best world archers, ” Punzo said that this is of great significance since athletes with disabilities are not only the serviceman, but also citizens who are part of the society.

“It’s a matter of equilibrium. When I was wounded, I was unarmed. So my mission was an unarmed mission and I’m very proud of that,” Punzo noted.