Pretty soon we’ve got the Paralympics starting but as I’ve watched everything being cleared away from the local area, such as the big screen, the fun-fair and the events on the heath, it’s really made me stop and think properly about what the Paralympics stand for. There is no sign of any of the festivities locally coming back for the Paralympics – they might, I don’t know – and yet London 2012 is looking like it will be the first Paralympics in history to sell out its tickets.
A friend really shocked me when she said she wasn’t interested in tickets because she didn’t want to see limbless bodies; it made her uncomfortable. I’m not judging her for that but I am surprised she said it because of all people, I didn’t think she’d have that bias. But, I think she has said out loud what lots of people think when faced with something our eyes are not used to seeing. Seeing people built differently to able-bodied people is a challenge because there are degrees of difference; some barely noticeable, others glaringly obvious. It is human nature to identify differences but it is intelligence that allows us to accept and process it.
I think the forthcoming Paralympics are the game-changer the way that the able-bodied perceive disabled bodies. With so many tickets sold and so many people seeing such a wide variety of challenges in a sporting environment, the exposure to degrees of disability surely has the ability to change any previous prejudices. It’s a key point that the Paralympics only exist because of war-injured service men (at that point, it was only men) at Stoke Mandeville and even now, the conflict-injured form a major part of the games.
It’s also very much worth mentioning that this is the first Paralympics for 12 years that allows those with ID (intellectual disability) to compete. And if you think there’s no scandal attached to Paralympics, hear this. In 2000, the Spanish Basketball team scooped gold in the ID category only for it to be revealed that actually, only two of the players had any form of ID at all. Hence the ban for twelve years. It took the IPC years to sort out new rules. How absolutely normal for nothing to be simple.
If I put my hand on my heart, I would say I found it more difficult to summon up interest in the Paras than the Olympics and when I look at why, I think about speed, about endurance and, yes, ability to be the best in the world. I’ve realised that it is a question of mind-set. Paralympians aren’t going to run the 100m in under 10 seconds but somewhat unbelievably, they’re going to come close. It’s not comparable to able-bodied games; there isn’t really any comparing to do. It’s far more about achieving against the odds and when you make that mind-switch, it suddenly seems a whole lot more exciting. Because going against the odds is always an endeavour. It’s not about how close they can get to ‘normal’; it’s about challenging their body differences in a way that goes above and beyond any expectation. None of this is to say they’re aren’t phenomenal athletes; many of the Paralympian competitors are breathtakingly talented, and urgh, I am sure any one of them would cringe if I went down the ‘brave’ route, but if you look at what many of them have had to overcome just to be at London 2012, or indeed, any sporting event, then you have to look long and hard at their emotional endurance as well as any physical abilities.
I’m slowly getting to know who the athletes to watch out for are; Johnny Peacock, Ellie Simmonds, Oscar Pistorius, Libby Clegg, David Weir and Lee Pearson to name just a few. The Telegraph has a list of our top fifty Paralympian althletes HERE
Exposure to anything that doesn’t fit into our daily perception of normality is a challenge, but you know how the more you see a thing, the less different it looks? Well, that.