The London 2012 Paralympic Games have been hailed as an outstanding success. Team GB exceeded its medal target and there have been many personal tales of courage and determination.
I had the huge honour of obtaining tickets for the Swimming heats, which where held on Wednesday 5th September in the electrifying Aquatics Centre inside the Olympic Park. Never one to shy away from a blog post, I thought I would give you all an insight into my day at the Paralympics!
Speaking as a disabled person, the Paralympics have done wonders in highlighting different disabilities and the potential of disabled people. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I was born with a birth defect called Spina Bifida. After numerous operations during early childhood and teens, at the age of 13 I had a below the knee amputation on my left leg.
When I was told I had to have my leg amputated, especially being the age that I was, I thought it was the end of the world. I wouldn’t be able to do things that my peers where doing and having to adjust to wearing a prosthetic limb for the rest of my life. I soon realised after having the operation that it was the best decision I had ever made. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right attitude. The Paralympians are the perfect example for people around the world to see what ‘superhumans’ who have faced big challenges can achieve.
An issue for a number of disabled people, especially in wheelchairs, is public transport. Whenever I get on the train where I live, around 90% of the time the ramp to get on and off is never there. It can be very frustrating and embarrassing if I am causing a backlog of passengers whilst trying to get assistance.
With this in mind and considering the London Transport System at the best of times, never mind being the Paralympics, I was anxious of the journey to the Olympic Park. I could not have been more wrong! Thanks to my knowledgeable friend Lauren (who I went with) and the excellent organisation of both the train staff and Games Makers situated everywhere you turned, our journey from Watford to Stratford International was a smooth one! We had assistance on and off the train in a flash and light hearted banter was exchanged with commuters who you had never met before.
I arrived at the Olympic Park and even though it was 8:45am, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere. I could see GB flags, bags, t shirts, headbands, scarfs and so on. The park screamed patriotism! Every single person was in the ‘Paralympic’ spirit and having the sunshine beaming down was the icing on the cake. Me and Lauren made our way over to the Aquatics Centre to take our seats for what would be an awe-inspiring three hours of swimming heats.
As we entered the Aquatics Centre I spotted a large number of ‘hot’ army men! Never one to miss a photo opportunity, I asked if it was ok if we had a group shot which resulted in the below picture. It’s a tough life being surrounded by all those beautiful men but somebody has to do it!
Words can’t describe how breathtaking, majestic, mind blowing and remarkable it was to watch the Paralympians in the water. Their disabilities can range from physical/visual/intellectual impairments such as amputations, paralysis or blindness. As they glided across the water with ease, you would never have guessed they had a disability.
The atmosphere was electric as the crowd got behind all the athletes. Even bigger roars where let out when Team GB swimmers where announced on the tannoy. Even though the races where heats, the air was zinging with anticipation. I found myself joining in with the crowd yelling at the top of my lungs (and being drowned out!). The noise was deafening and my ears were ringing!
The highlight of the morning for me had to be the swimmer Hassani Ahamada Djae from the Comoros Islands. He swam the length of the pool and touched the wall first with none of his rivals in sight. The problem was he was the only one to have jumped into the water after doing an incredible false start. He was applauded all the way to the end and got an even bigger cheer when he clambered out of the pool, only to discover his first place was actually going to be a DSQ instead!
After an intense 3 hours where we saw 5 Paralympic Records, 1 World Record, a false start and a number of Team GB swimmers through to the finals in the evening, it was time to explore the delights of the Olympic Park on offer.
There was a great feeling of excitement engendered by the smiling faces of the Games Makers as me and Lauren made our way around the park. Wherever I go, I always purchase a souvenir as a memento of the occasion. I bought an official Paralympic programme which features all the key aspects of the Games: the athletes (from Paralympics GB and other nations), venues, people behind the scenes, history, facts and figures. A souvenir to be cherished!
Our tour around the park took 4 hours because there was so much to do and see! My head was on a swivel taking everything in! I captured all of this on my trusty camera and have included some of my highlights below. My favourite had to be holding the Paralympic Torch!
What the Paralympics have shown the world is that disability is here. However, apply technology, be it blades, wheelchairs, or hand bikes, for the disabled person there are no limits to what can be achieved.
As I can’t use the gym facilities, I like to go swimming every so often to keep my fitness levels up. After witnessing the swimming at the Paralympics, I have been inspired to go more regularly and to research if there are any disabled swimming classes in my local area to take up the sport competitively.
Watch out Rio 2016!