Eszter Bara, a part-time librarian of Corvinus, is a member of the Hungarian national sitting volleyball team. In May this year, the women’s national team won every match, and thus the tournament, too, in the Silver Nations League in Nottingham. We asked her about her successes.
How did your sporting career start? And why sitting volleyball, since there are 22 Paralympic sports?
I had my accident in 2003. First I tried swimming, then table tennis (ping pong), and I gave basketball a try, too. Then, in the autumn of 2019, I met a disabled boy at the basketball training and he invited me to play sitting volleyball, which is for people with disabilities. The big difference is that you play basketball and table tennis sitting in a wheelchair, while in sitting volleyball you are down on the floor without a chair, that is how you have to move around. Interestingly, at the net, it is an advantage that you don’t have legs. I’m a good net player, which requires a lot of strength and good muscles in the arm and upper body. By the end of the match you can get really tired, and you always lose 1-2 kilos. We remedy that with drinks and energy powders. What is even more difficult – it happened in a game in Turkey and in Bosnia and Herzegovina – is that we were short of players, so we had to avoid elimination, because there were no substitutes. In this respect, it was easier in Nottingham, where we had substitutes.
What do you like most about this sport?
The fact that it is a team effort. You have to listen to the others, what they’re thinking and what they’re planning, so you have to stay really focused. You have to think like a team, and this ability actually helps you a lot in everyday life, too. And another reason why I like it, of course, is that the sitting volleyball team is a tight-knit group, we have opening and closing parties, and we often get together. I have a friend, too, in the team.
You work part-time in the Corvinus Library and in the library of the Hungarian University of Sports Science. What is your actual job?
I am responsible for the processing of metadata in both places, i.e. for the Hungarian Science Bibliography (MTMT), which is a national database of scientific publications. I have been involved in this work since the start of MTMT. I enjoy doing this, and it is also good that I work from home on Fridays, so I can get to physiotherapy. Sitting volleyball training sessions are held every day from 8 pm to 9.30 pm, sometimes even on Saturday mornings. And the league games are on Sundays.
With so much to do, do you have time for relaxation and hobbies?
Yes, I love reading, going to the cinema and museums, and I swim every week. I am interested in animals, too, I have two guinea pigs and a tortoise.
Speaking of museums, I have a question. How easy is it for a disabled person to get into a public building in Hungary today?
It depends. The renewed Museum of Fine Arts, for example, has solved it brilliantly, but there are problems in many places. Some of my friends with disability have recently visited London, where it is much easier to get around in a wheelchair. Just one example: we now have trains that can be boarded by using a wheelchair lift, but not all conductors know how to operate the device.
In England, a rehabilitation institute for injured servicemen was set up already after World War II, under the leadership of Professor Dr Ludwig Guttman. A little later competitions started. The sport of sitting volleyball was actually introduced in Hungary in 1970, with the foundation of the Halassi Olivér Sport Club. What about the respect for Paralympians, how do you think society views people with disabilities?
I would like to add that sitting volleyball has changed a lot since its beginnings, and its rules are now very similar to the traditional game of volleyball. I find that people look up to the Paralympians, too, for example, Fanni Illés, the Paralympic champion in swimming, is very popular, and the athletes also respect her. We are living in a former socialist country, physical conditions are not so good yet, everyday difficulties in getting into buildings and travel opportunities are changing more slowly than in other countries where there is a strong tradition of this, but there is improvement.
But I find it more important that the attitude and the approach have changed a lot. I have a lot of friends suffering from Heine-Medin disease (poliomyelitis – ed.), and before the change in the political system, they were simply hidden from society. Today, a much more modern view is taken that people with disabilities are valuable, that they can contribute to the common good with their skills and achievements. I think it’s a very serious change of attitude.
Another very important thing, in my opinion, is that you have to recalibrate yourself, you simply have to learn to ask for help. Many people used to stay at home all the time because they simply didn’t dare to ask for help, or didn’t know who to ask. But you must. After my accident, my family was there for me, but I also needed the help of my disabled friends, because my family members were as traumatised by the accident as I was, and in that sense, friends were able to help in a different way. And you have to be able to accept that.
What is your biggest ambition at the moment?
To perform as well as possible with the team at the European Championships in Italy in early October.
Author: Katalin Török