EU chief looks to Paralympian Vio to inspire European youth

When the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was at a loss for words to capture the true spirit of European youth, she introduced a guest of honor during her State of the Union address.

Sitting anonymously among EU lawmakers for most of the hour-long speech, which is a highlight of the EU calendar, the Italian Paralympic fencer suddenly became the center of attention when von der Leyen called her up. the guest of honor of the proceedings.

“Trying to find the right words to capture the essence,” said von der Leyen, “isn’t easy. But it’s easier when you borrow them from someone who inspires you.”

More than winning gold and silver in women’s foil at the Paralympic Games, it was the road to this year’s games that inspired von der Leyen. Wheelchair fencer Vio contracted meningitis as a child and to save her life, doctors amputated both forearms and both legs at the knees.

It was far from the end of her struggles before she reached the Tokyo Paralympics, where she again proved she can shoot at the highest level without hands or feet.

“But what you might not know is that in April alone, she was told her life was in danger. She had surgery, she fought back, she recovered. And just 119 days after being released from the hospital, she won Paralympic gold, “she said.

Fighting unlikely obstacles, said von der Leyen, “is the spirit of the next European generation. So let us be inspired by Bebe and by all the young people who are changing our perception of the possible. “

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