Two of the biggest stars at the Beijing Olympic Games, swimmer Natalie du Toit and table tennis player Natalia Partyka, paid tribute to the Olympic volunteers at the Paralympic Village yesterday.
The two made history by entering the Olympics with able-bodied athletes last month.
They thanked and presented memorabilia pins to the volunteers.
"Everyone has been very very sweet," du Toit, the 24-year-old South African, wearing her country's dark green Paralympic shirt and white shorts, said. She is first amputee athlete to take part in both the Games.
Du Toit placed fourth in the 2008 Open Water World Championships held in May in Seville, Spain and instantly qualified for the Olympics. She competed in the 10 km marathon swimming event at the Olympics and placed 16th among the 25 best distance swimmers in the world.
In February 2001, her left leg had to be amputated at the knee after being hit by a car while riding her scooter back to school after swimming practice.
But just three months later, even before she could walk again, she was back in the pool determined to compete at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
She said young people, including the thousands of passionate volunteers, should always be positive toward the possibilities in their lives and give all they can.
"Aim high, dream big, and achieve your ambitions," she said. "As I have always said, the tragedy of life lies in not having goals to reach."
Representatives of the 70,000 Olympic volunteers were yesterday presented with bouquets by newly elected members of the IOC, including legendary Russian swimmer Alexander Popov.
More than 44,000 volunteers, many of whom served at the Olympics, will help out at the Paralympic Games starting on Saturday.
Natalia Partyka, Poland's 19-year-old table tennis star, was born without a right hand.
"I am surprised by the work of the volunteers. A week ago the spectator stands at the Olympic Village welcoming ceremony were tiered. Today, they have been transformed into barrier-free slopes," Partyka said.
She became a household name among Chinese fans when she defeated World No 6 Li Jia Wei from Singapore at the World Championships in Guangzhou earlier in the year.
Li Mengdi, 19, a volunteer, said: "I think athletes and volunteers inspire each other. I was inspired by Partyka."
Both du Toit and Partyka said they have now aclimitized to the weather and conditions.
Du Toit said her training at the Water Cube has been perfect.
She said her goal was to do the same as at the last Paralympics - winning five gold medals. But this time, she expects tougher competition, especially from the Chinese swimmers.
"It's going to be tough. There are 41 swimmers from China," du Toit said.
Source: China Daily