Paralympic Perfection

I have been lucky enough to have tickets for both the Olympics and Paralympics at London 2012. Last month I watched the Ladies’ Basketball and last weekend I was at the Excel Arena to watch some Paralympic Powerlifting. Here is the Tortoise Soup report on the brilliance of the Paralympics.

The Olympics themselves are, of course, a wonderful event. Athletes at the very top of their field giving every last drop of strength and energy to either win a medal or at least set a personal best. It is magnificent to see. The Paralympics however is even greater – the athletes achievements are so much more meaningful, it moves the heart and the soul simply to watch it.

The atmosphere at the Excel Arena was wonderful. Crowds were queueing around the block for the chance of a last minute ticket. Everybody had a smile on their face, and there was a tangible excitement in the air. I had a ticket to see the 48kg and under women and the competitors had a range of disabilities – many in wheelchairs, some with artificial limbs and one without legs. The weights that they lifted varied greatly as well – I was lucky enough to see the Nigerian winner Esther Oyema create a world record by lifting 135kg – nearly three times her own body weight. One of the competitors, however, failed to lift 64kg  but her effort was given rapturous applause – she was not a failure, her very being there was a remarkable achievement.

I have loved every minute of the Paralympic games, but for me there has been one stand out moment. Britain’s very own Ellie Simmonds winning her second gold (so far) in the 200 metres individual medley swimming. She is so much smaller than the other swimmers, and as she lined up it seemed incredible that she could even think of competing against them. After three of the fours strokes she was a distant second behind Ukraine’s Oksana Khrul – her short arms and legs mean that Ellie is unable to generate power by kicking off of the wall and she struggles at certain stokes. We need not have worried – as she turned for the final 50 metres it was as if somebody had switched on an outboard motor, she flew past Khrul and won by nearly ten seconds. It was such an astonishing thing to see that broadcaster Channel 4, when showing highlights on the news, had to say ‘we have not speeded up this footage.’ It has to rank as one of the most incredible minutes of sport that I have ever seen. Ellie Simmonds is such an unassuming young woman, with a beaming smile, and she has certainly become a national treasure.

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So what will the legacy of the Paralympics be? My upcoming children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ addresses the issue of childhood disability. It’s heroine, Ruby Tinker, has been disabled in a car crash that killed both of her parents. This is how Ruby would sum up the Paralympics:

“The Paralympic Games have been incredible – not just because disabled athletes have shown that they too can do wonderful things, can achieve magnificent sporting glories, but because they have been accepted as athletes first and disabled people second. Huge audiences are loving the Paralympics because they have been entertained by great sport, it doesn’t matter that the competitors are not what some people would call ‘able bodied’. They have shown that there is no such thing as ‘dis-ability’ just ‘different ability’ – and after all, every one of us is different in our own little way. I hope that the Paralympics breaks down the ‘us and them’ mentality – that we realise that people in wheelchairs, people without limbs, people with mental challenges are all human too and have just as much to offer society. Then we really will have had a perfect Paralympics!”

Well said Ruby – she is a clever little girl! You can read more from Ruby and her struggle to be reunited with her beloved tortoise Byron in ‘Tortoise Soup’ when my novel is published. In the meantime, please do comment below and share your view of the Paralympic Games.

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