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.
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I am so excited for the Paralympics, the C4 advert is really good and hopefully people will get behind our GB team as they did with the Olympics!
Great, great post Jane! I’m attending 3 Paralympic events, namely wheelchair basketball, Swimming and athletics and I’m super excited. I felt disappointed in friends and people generally when I see an instant disinterest when I mention it’s a Paralympic event and not as they call it ‘the real Olympics’!
For me, it’s natural to support these Olympians as they don’t allow their disability to preserve in their passion! I can’t imagine I would be as positive and persevering and I really admire those abilities in people regardless of ‘how they look’! They have more reason to be idolized than Usain Bolt if you ask me!
Thank you for writing about this. As a disabled person I am so excited about the paralympics and I’ve been disappointed that I seem to be in the minority there are people in it who have the same condition as me and while they may be more able than me they give me hope. I’ve heard people say “what’s the point in seeing who’s the best cripple” or “I want to see the best not the worst” and I just want to say this. To a disabled person such as myself, getting out of bed can be a challenge. to get to compete in these games they have to use all the strenght that the olympians used and more because things are harder for us than them. So everyone should get excited about the paralympics because regardless your thoughts about disability the paralympics celebrate inner strength and skill of the like which isn’t seen anywhere else. I hope that came across ok!
I finally got tickets to the Paralympics and I’m so excited! As much as I am amazed at the Olympians, sometimes, I am more amazed at Paralympians. A lot of them have stories that most people wouldn’t be able to overcome, never mind become a Paralympian for!
Thanks for your great post. In France, last year, ‘Les Intouchables’, a true story about a very rich paralized man, hit the roof in the box office. It’s coming in a few weeks in the Ciné Lumière at the French Institute in South Kensington. This film has changed perception of disabled people in France, at last!
I’m actually more excited about the Paralympics than the Olympics, simply because I think they’re hugely inspiring. Whether you have a disability or not, it proves you can achieve your goals. I also think its a great teaching tool, to raise awareness of certain disabilities in a positive light.
Heading to the Paralympics myself, so excited abt it! Really interested to see how the athletes compete and in particular, seeing the sprinters. In the medical field, you encounter differences all the time, I often feel humbled to see some ppl who have severe physical disabilities. It is a shame what your friend says but like you say, she isn’t used to seeing ppl with physical disabilities. Anyhow, I am aware some of the ppl I have met in the past are competing, which makes me even more excited.
I was at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and Paralympics. While the attention and crowds for the Paralympics weren’t nearly at the same level, it was still a wonderful and exciting event. The opening ceremony was joyful and special and the events gave the opportunity for more local families and “regular” people to attend than did the Olympics. The crowds were great, the spirit was amazing, and the competition inspiring and top notch. It’s almost too bad that they have to come so soon after the Olympics, because they are then seen as sort of “second rate”… but they aren’t.
I’m looking forward to it because I have so much respect for people who have gone through accidents, injury, disease, illness or disfigurements and still remain positive and are just as able bodied as Olympians to compete in sport. It just shows anyone can do anything they want despite draw backs.
“It just shows anyone can do anything they want despite draw backs.”
Except it doesn’t. Patronising at best.
Ever tried being getting commercial jobs as a disabled working MUA? Just. Does. Not. Happen. Agencies do not want to talk to you. PRs do not want to know you in case you make their brands look bad. I was forced out of my previous job (as a historian) because they would not accomodate me. Three years later, they’ve only got round to putting in a wheelchair lift because the student union got involved.
Tried going on the tube where you want and getting off again with a wheelchair? Getting the bus without receiving a mouthful of abuse from a buggy wielding mother?
A lot of disabled people, myself included are afraid that the Government will use the Paralympics as yet another stick to beat us with.
@wildthyme I’ve been so caught up with seeing people like me on tv that I haven’t really thought of the downsides. I get enough abuse as a disabled person on esa, perhaps you are right and atos/ dwp/ the gov will use this as another excuse to hurt us further. However, having recently tried to do all the things you’ve said and failed, my favourite being told that I couldn’t use charing cross station as it was small and therefore they hadn’t put in any wheelchair access, maybe the good of having disabled people in such a high profile position will make people aware of disabled people and their troubles in a way they haven’t been previously (sorry if i’m not meant to comment like this, i’m never sure of the etiquette and i find this topic really interesting!)
I’m really looking forward to the Paralympics. I’m disabled and I’m really excited to see what people can do with a few modifications, loads of spirit and hard work.
I find it a little sad that the Paralympics seem to be an afterthought slapped on at the end of things, after all the hype has gone. Surely in the spirit of integration we should be aiming for able bodied events and disabled events on the same day, not weeks apart as it is now?
Hopefully the wonderful spirit will continue and it’ll be an inspiring, empowering and uplifting Games.
Reading your post made me think that perhaps I live in a little bubble all of my own. I was shocked at your friends comment about not wanting to watch limbless people, and am a bit sad that people would think that way. I have no physical or intellectual disability, so can’t relate to the athletes in that respect, but am totally in awe of what they achieve.
Yes, the Olympic athletes are astonishing – they achieve amazing results and are, as we all know, the best in the world. However those athletes taking part in the Paraolympics have overcome the most incredible disabilities in order to achieve – mind over matter doesn’t come into it.
I went to the closing ceremony, and the only downside for me was the extinguishing of the Olympic flame – I know that this was effectively what the ceremony was all about, but it did make me think that the Paraolympians are being treated as a bit of an “add-on” – they surely don’t deserve that?
I am so pleased the Paraolympian Games have sold out, and hope that the spectators leave the Stadium feeling as I do – that these people are truly awe-inspiring.
Firstly thank you for writing this article, I know many wouldn’t go near it.
This year I was far more excited for the Paralympics than the main Olympics and I don’t have a disability. I’m just inspired and in total awe of some of the things these athletes have endured and at the end of the day never gave up and they go VERY hard! Have you seen the wheelchair basketball???? I snapped up tickets as soon as I could.
My highlight of the olympics was to watch Oscar Pistorius of South Africa make history, he beat pretty much all the ‘able bodied’ people in his first heat plus he brought much needed attention to the Paralympics.
I do think the closing ceremony should have happened after the Paralympics but I’m sure there was a reason for doing this which of course I will never understand.
Bring on the Superhumans!