When a disabled athlete undergoes medical examination, physicians do not focus on what he is unable to do, but on what (s)he knows and can perform. Also people without disabilities, when they have a job interview, are asked: “What are you good at?” Our body’s limitations do not always correspond to those of our soul, nor to those of our will. This is the lesson we can learn from all the sportsmen who, instead of letting illness defeat them, fight to make their dreams come true, by using their potentials as everyone else. This was the starting point for Laura Coccia, whom we met in the Gallery of Presidents of the Chamber of Deputies. Class 1986, a Paralympic athlete suffering from spasmodic tetraparesis with which she was diagnosed at birth. “On the basis of what I can do, I can then learn to do other things. I used to have problems walking, yet I managed to start running. One must always give it a try in life. You fall down, then you stand up again. If you cannot make it now, you will do it better next time”. The disease struck her and did not allow her to walk as everyone else.
Laura spent the whole period at the primary school sitting in a corner and silently observing the world around her. “I started to pay attention at the way people walked, then I tried to do the same, my own way”. The teachers, however, did not share this way of thinking. For five years she was discouraged by those who were supposed to secure her a future. “They tried to explain me that what I dreamed of – the Olympics – was not possible”. A spastic person does not relate to the world, does not move, (s)he remains motionless. At least, this is what her teachers thought. And what is the part they gave her during the Christmas performance? The cave. Sitting motionless in the middle of the crib’s papers, to camouflage the “problem”. A slap in the of the education system that should encourage new generations to respect and have confidence in themselves.
Spasticity is a disease full of clichés: it is not true that all of them have relational problems. Psychologically they do not have deficiencies. “I came against a cultural and mental barrier where who was different, was feared. Very often this phobia is generated by the fact, that there are many disabilities and one cannot know all of them. They were trying to indoctrinate me, that is to say, to make me learn the lesson by heart; they tried to teach me that I could only have secondary parts. The problem is that, this way, I was deprived of any kind of social relations”.
At the secondary schools she meets Gianni, a P.E. teacher. The teacher had already accompanied a boy with a spine injury. “When I arrived, he continued what he was already doing”. Gianni encourages her to fight. “Now you have to do what everyone else is doing”, he says. Strong words, but at the same time they are full of fear and hope for a girl who is not able to stand on her feet. Laura, accompanied by her family, always at her side, and by her professor, improves, literally step by step, to the point of beginning to run.
Laura is now a Member of Parliament convinced that “we always have something to learn from the others”. Considering the goals she has achieved, it would make more sense to ask ourselves what could we learn from her. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in history, obtaining even a scholarship, besides having won about thirty Italian titles as marathoner. In a world, that sets an image of the woman as absolute perfection and wonder, being a woman and disabled means to live out of the schemes. “I want to prove to girls that being disabled is not a problem. Having an imperfect body is not a problem. Everyone has defects”.
Coccia has introduced also some amendments to the “Good school” reform with regard to delegation on support. “My goal is to give a new perspective on disability, to see the skills and to ensure educational continuity. The school, society, everyone must focus on residual abilities, then minors will set their goals themselves. Perhaps they are not going to be the same everyone else has, or perhaps they will. We cannot know that beforehand. A person with disability has an obstacle, that of the growth. We cannot know how (s)he will overcome it, but it is our duty to support them, and to give them all the necessary tools to do so”.
Laura’s strength resides also in faith. “I am a practicing Catholic and, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, I feel like a tool in God’s hands”. Her life is guided by two biblical passages: the parable of the talents and a verse of the Psalm 118. “Everyone must do their best with what they have been given, and one cannot pretend not to have it. We have received gifts and we have to put them at everyone’s service. If I received such a beautiful gift, as the ability to overcome my disability, why should I keep it for myself? The stone discarded by the builders has become a corner stone: I am this stone. Anyone, even if society marginalizes them, has the duty to take hold of their own lives and to build their own future”. Laura knows what it means to be disabled, and she is aware of having a task: to back those in difficulty and to get them a message: “Walk out of your home, life awaits you. You can lead a normal life, you can also get married. Disability is merely an adjective, that qualifies a person the same way as tall or short does”.