The goal of their dreams

23 Norwegian athletes have fulfilled their dream of participating in the Paralympics in Rio. I have met eight of them and photographed them . These days Sarah Louise Rung and the others will learn how far all the effort will take them .

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The goal of their dreams

23 Norwegian athletes have fulfilled their dream of participating in the Paralympics in Rio. I have met eight of them and photographed them . These days Sarah Louise Rung and the others will learn how far all the effort will take them .

Gå til norsk utgave

To view my regular webpage - click here

The dream

Perhaps blood too,
but at least backbreaking toil.
Lots of hard work. Pain.
Can we really imagine the effort that's
put into following a dream that is so big?
If we could see for ourselves what they must sacrifice
and forsake - without having any
guarantee to get paid for the effort?
Training, cramming.
Technique, tactics.
Strength, agility.
The first dream they have in common:
to see their name on the list of
participants who receive a ticket to the world
biggest sporting event for
disabled, Paralympics.
From there they have different dreams.
For some it's about defending
position as the best
in the world. For others it is
to take the first medal,
even gold.
Maybe it's about  giving everything
to get to that final heat.
Setting personal record.
Or simply do their very,
best when it really matters.
Can you really dream
about something






























The  hunted hunter

Sarah Louise Rung know she is hunted in Rio. But she will be in the hunt herself.

- I notice that I am a favorite. Competitors are here to get me, realises the biggest star in Norwegian squad for the Paralympics in Rio.

26-year-old from Stavanger took gold in 200 meter freestyle and 50m butterfly during the Games in 2012. She also brought home two silver medals from London. So she has a lot to defend.

- But at 100m Freestyle I've got to be the hunter. I love to be in a hunter's position and not only in a defensive position, she says about the distance where she was beaten in London.


Role model

It is not only in the pool that Sarah Louise Rung has won glory. On Sports Gala in Norway last year she was proclaimed  the female, disabled athlete of the year - and she also was proclaimed role model of the year. It is highly regarded, but she finds it difficult to put into words how she can be an inspiration to others.

- I think I can be an example for other people to  see the opportunities ahead and seize them, regardless of your situation. If one only looks at the limitations, they can easily become excuses not to set goals and move on, says Sarah Louise.


Into the bubble

Handikapnytt meets her in Stavanger swimming hall, her home court. Now she looks forward to "get into the bubble," as she says. That means she is going to shut the outside world out and focus completely on the tasks ahead. Stay focused. It's hard and long training camps in Spain and Florid ahead.

- The championship is the party, but it is a tough job, underline Sarah Louise.

If  Rio is going to be  her last Paralympics, she doesn't consider right now.

- The decision will not only be based on the results in September. It's about so much more. Being a top athlete is a lifestyle of traveling, training and friendship.


Would be best in world

Sarah Louise Rung was a swimmer long before she was injured in 2008. It was natural for her to continue, but today she is at a much higher level.

- Before, I was probably not that dedicated. I enjoyed the sport and all the friends training together. But it was first after the injury I was determined about the swimming and set a goal to become the best in the world.


Name: Sarah Louise Rung
Age: 26
Location: Stavanger
Sport: Swimming
Achievements: Two Paralympic gold medals and two silver medals. Eight world championship gold medals and 5 European Championship gold medals.
Goals in Rio : Defending medals from London and do my best championship so far.
When I succeed in my sport, I feel: Yess !! An insane sense of accomplishment and joy.






























Singing with the wind


Wind in the sail, water surging along the hull. Waves rolling. Altogether it becomes almost like a small orchestra in the ears of a sailor .

To  Bjørnar Erikstad sailing is a musical experience.

- A lot of people say that the wind is howling. But there is much more nuanced than that. I think we are sailing much more on sound than we realize, says Bjørnar and smiles.

He has lived all his life by the seaside.

- When everything is right and the boat picks up speed, I feel like singing. Sing the same song as boat.



Name: Bjørnar Erikstad
Age: 35
Location: Tønsberg
Sports: Sailing
Achievements: World Cup silver medals in 2014 and 2015. VM bronze medals in 2001 and 2006. 8 Norwegian championship gold medals over the years and the kings thropy in 2004. In three previous Paralympics he has  7th- and 8th results. 
Goals in Rio: Will fight for a medal. And then gold is better than silver!
When I succeed in my sport, I feel: Happiness! Relief! Tremendous joy!































defying vertigo

Birgitte Reitan has actually chosen the completely wrong sport. Because she has a fear of heights. Fortunately, she can compensate with a strong competitive instinct.

- When I'm on the horse, I must focus on something else than the long way down. I'd rather concentrate on the good feeling of achievement, she says.

Birgitte is traveling to Rio with a debutants humility:

- Dressage Riding is a technically very difficult sport, and I'm still very young compared to the average of the athletes in this sport. I'm no medal contender, but I'm here to learn, so I hopefully can be the best sometime in the future.

The 23-year-old started to learn dressage four years ago, and has competed in just two years. Yet she fears that her sports career may be over almost before it has begun.

- It is very expensive to compete with dressage riding. If I don't get a new sponsor, I am forced to retire after Rio, she fears.

Name: Birgitte Reitan
Age: 23
Location: Skedsmo
Sports: Dressage Riding
Achievements: Gold medal in Nordic Championships 2014, silver medal in Nordic championship 2015. Gold medals in national championship in 2014 and 2015.
Goals in Rio: learning, so that I can become the best in the future. I hope for a final.
When I succeed in my sport, I feel: Joy - about achieving something I've been working for a long time and sacrificed a lot to achieve.






























The super veteran

Runar Steinstad know that his age is working against him. Then it's even more satisfying when he manages to keep his performance at the same level as before - and even get a little better. With his 49 years the javelin thrower is a veteran. But being a paralympier feels no less honorable than when he was younger. On the contrary.

- As paralympier you must love what you are doing, not only enjoy it, he declares.

Because nothing comes easy. If you have reached so far that you have been selected for the Paralympics you have been dedicated to your sport for a long time and in a completely different level than most others.

- It means training hours out of the ordinary, priorities, regularity and predictability of everyday life, and a daily routine governed by specific goals. Without exceptions.

Meanwhile Runar is very clear bout that he is no victim. He forsakes nothing he'd rather would do.

- Knowing that you are among the very best in the world in your sport is of course fun, and can surely adjust some of your self-image, he smiles.

If inner motivation is not present, one will never become a paralympier, says Runar.

- Exercise always exceeds talent when accounts are settled. Also for the disabled.

There is a lot of practical challenges that must be resolved in order to implement daily training. Some need companions or assistants to train, others need special equipment or trainers with special skills.

- As a paralympier I must take charge to get this in place. The best paralympiers like to seek to the best athletes to train together and develop together.

Runar Steinstad notes that sport for disabled people still live in the shadow.
The media shadow.

- It is the media that fuels the sports and sets the agenda. If we had basketball on TV every  Saturday, I think there had been an raise in both sponsorship and increased recruitment of basketball.



Name: Runar Steinstad
Age: 49
Location: Sandefjord
Sports: Javelin
Honours: Bronze medal in World Cup 2006 , silver medal in the World Championships in 2011 , gold medal in the European Championships 2012, bronze medal in the Paralympics 2012, bronze medal at the World Championships in 2013 , silver medal in the European Championships in 2014 , bronze medal in the European Championships in 2016 .
Goals in Rio: Throw 53 meters and reach the final. And if everything works: 55 meters and the possibility of a medal.
When I succeed in my sport, I feel: The lump in my throat.






























table tennis in the vains


The first time Aida Dahlen played table tennis, she discovered that she has it in her vains. It just felt natural.

- Now I'll just see how good I can be. I sets higher and higher goals, she says.

For it is the ability to react that sets someone apart in this lightning fast game with the small, lightweight ball that passes between duellantene over the table. Aida has always been fast. That lays underneath. In the vains. From there it's about technique and training .









Name: Aida Dahlen
Location: Oslo
Age: 25
Sports: Table tennis
Achievements: European Championship gold medal in 2015, World Championship silver medal in 2014, European championship silver medal in 2013. 5th place from the Paralympics in 2012 .
Goals in Rio: Medal .
When I succeed in my sport, I feel : Sparkling joy! It's a feeling I have more and more often. And it feel good!






























– I have BOASSON HAGENS thigh!

Glenn Johansen got his muscle strength and volum measured in his left leg and equaled the capacity of the non-disabled professional cyclist Edvald Boasson Hagen.

- The only difference is that he has got two of them. But I live happily with that result, grins the paralympier from Høybråten in Oslo, now resident of the town limits in Lørenskog.

As a cyclist with CP it is the coordination and balance that are the biggest challenges. Therefore Glenn is most comfortable with time trial - where he do not have to sit in a big group with other bikers - and a course that are not too technically demanding.

Just as the course in Rio. That gives reasons for optimism.

But at the same time:

- The competition is insanely high! Much higher than in London in 2012. Ordinary people do not understand what we are talking about, says Glenn.

He will not be surprised if the winning speed over twenty miles will pass an average speed of 46 km/h. The rise in the level internationally makes Glenn choose to have moderate expectations of medal chances. Instead he focuses on individual performance.

- If I have a perfect day, anything can happen. And you have to have some luck. But if I get out my best, I'll be happy no matter the results.

When it goes well in competitions - and hopefully good in Rio - it's a reward for all the training. Glenn admits that not all of the training is fun. But:

- I still think it's so cool when I succeed. It is an enormous satisfaction to know that I am just simply good.



Name: Glenn Johansen
Age: 42
Location: Lørenskog
Sports: Cycling
Achievements: 4th place in time trial and 9th place in the mass start of the Paralympics in 2013. World Championship silver medal in time trial from 2013. Ranked as No. 3 in the world that year. Some other placements in the World Cup. He has won Tyrifjorden around, small course and taken 2nd place in veteran cup against non-disabled.
Goals in Rio: Get out the best I've been training for in four years.
When I succeed in my sport, I feel: Insanely joy!






























trains with his inner eye

The most important property of a boccia player is to stay focused and not let themselves be knocked of the perch, explains Roger Aandalen. In the class he competes, all the athletes have CP. Concentration is essential to be able to perform.

- CP and precision sport is not exactly something that many thinks naturally belongs together. It is so cool to manage something that most people think is impossible, he says.

So in addition to exercise and harp on the throwing technique,a lot of Rogers preparations is to visualise, to imagine, what will happen in the competition.

- I can visualise what will happen and what can happen, so I am prepared when it happens. The visualization is an important part of my routine. I do it everywhere, whether it's in bed before I fall asleep at night, or if I'm sitting on the plane on the way to the competition.

Not even a seasoned player like Roger managed to imagine that there would be 5,000 spectators in the stands during the London Paralympics.

It gave me a real kick. I hope there will be a lot of people who follow the game in Rio as well.

Rio is Rogers sixth Paralympics, and he is aware that it will be his last.

- It is still very fun to compete internationally, but I'm starting to go a little tired of all the training that is needed, he admits.

So what would have been more appropriate than to end his career by going right to the top? The experienced boccia player is not being fooled to come with  such gilded declarations. To that, the level of competition is to high and to even.

- I like to keep my ambitions for myself, he says with a smile.



Name: Roger Aandalen
Age: 51
Location: Fields, outside Lillestrom
Sports: Boccia
Achievements: Silver medal in the Paralympics 2004 in Athens and bronze medal from London in 2012. Silver medal in the World Cup in 1995 and 2003, bronze medal in 1999. 
Goals in Rio: If everything works, the goal is to win a medal.
When I succeed in my sport, I feel: an inner peace.






























Name: Birgit Skarstein
Age: 27
Location: Oslo
Sports: Rowing
Achievements: Silver medal at the World Championships in 2013 , gold medal at the World Championships in 2014 , bronze medal in World Cup 2013 , silver medal in World Cup 2015, bronze medal in World Cup 2015 , silver medal in World Cup 2016, winner of the Norwegian Cup in cross country in 2014 , 8th in the sprint cross country .
Goals in Rio: Take a medal, betting against gold
When I succeed in my sport, I feel: Achievement , gratitude and freedom.



The toughest of all times


People think it's cozy with the Paralympics, but the truth is that it is raw and brutal. Just very hard, as in the Olympics. We train as elite athletes and dedicate our lives to this, says Birgit Skarstein.

She has just completed another training session on Årungen rowing stadium in Ås. From a motorboat the trainer Bastien Gallet give his instructions: tiny technique adjustments to ensure maximum speed and stability through the water. He believes Birgit has the chance to reach to the top in Rio if everything works out perfectly. Silver in World Cup in Polish Poznan in June gives good promises. But the main character takes nothing for granted.

- I hope I will manage to get out my potential. It's almost more important to me that I will manage to do the best that I can, than it is for me to win. But one thing is certain: this is the all-time toughest competition for me.


Grateful for the community

This summer Birgit beat the world record. But after the boat passed the finish line, it was not with a triumphant yess feel.

- No, I swore and hit the oar in the dock. There where a few technical things I could have done better, she says and laughs.

She realizes that although it is possible to reach high goals through hard work, there is also much that happens by accident and timing when it comes to competitions.

- It's close. Only hundredths of a second separates the contestants in rowing. In addition to a thorough and meticulous work over time, you need everything to work perfectly at that specific moment. Still, I know that I can do a very good job without getting a reward in terms of medals.

When she succeeds, Birgit Skarstein gets lots of emotions. One of them is gratitude.

- We work so hard to achieve the goals we set ourselves. I feel gratitude when i reach them, and an appreciation for the team and all who work for the same goal, she says.


The only thing we don't do together

Birgit participated in cross-country skiing in Sochi. She expects that Rio will be much bigger:

- A Summer Paralympics is over twice as big as a Winter Paralympics, she notes.

Most preferably, she would have seen that disabled and non disabled people could compete together also in the Olympics.

- It feels weird that all of my team mates goes to Rio a month before me. We train and compete together constantly. This is the only thing we dont't do together.






What do you feel now ?
What's the answer to that, really?
Pleasure. The fierce, unspeakable
joy that it's so hard
to put into words without getting
flickering and embarrassed.
It could have been like an intoxication,
if it were not for the intense
in the moment.
An element of triumph, to be at the top
of the podium. No one is going there without a
almost animalistic competitive instinct.
But really, it's hardly about
medals and metal.
It's bigger. And deeper.
It's personal.
It's about being able to toggle
in hundreds of training hours into the
proper performance. In due time, just
when the price is at it's highest .
Hit the plank, rein the horse.
Tame the wind, endure the pain.
When it matters most .




Thank you for looking at the pictures and reading about these amazing athletes.
This project has been a collaboration between Handikapnytt, Dagbladet Magasinet and myself.
Thanks to everyone who has helped us to accomplish this.


Photo: Erik Norrud
Text: Ivar Kvistum (translation: Google ;-) and Erik Norrud)
Make-up/Styling: Sara Schultz/Pudderagency, Kristina Pilar Neo, Tatjana Weddegjerde
Photoassistants: Alberto Palladino, Håkon Eltvik, Oktawian Gornik.



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