Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Following on from my last two posts about the Olympics and optimism in general it seems only fitting that I post something about the Paralympics. But what to say? I'm not sure I have the words in me.

I didn’t really want to do a “highlights” post, as I didn’t want it to be a comparison to the Olympics in my mind. I mean, really, what could compare to those amazing days? Well, I think I was wrong, the full eleven days of the Paralympics was just one big positivity trip. The whole event was just full of elation, triumph over adversity, personal achievements and national pride, but all in all a massive tribute to positive mental attitude. Everyone is writing about how the Paralympics changed society’s attitude toward those with disabilities, has created a whole new world of role models and raised awareness about a number of worthy causes. Of course I recognise that, but for me, it goes even deeper and perhaps that’s what I should write about?

Honestly, I think the Olympics changed Britain and the British forever. They made it ok to be proud of London and the UK, made it ok to be patriotic, made it ok to be happy. The Paralympics cemented those feelings, and then built a great big skyscraper on top of the Olympic foundations. It’s not just ok to be proud of Britain, it’s ok to celebrate Britain, what and who we are, and what we’ve done (let’s not forget, we conceived the Paralympics). It’s ok to scream our patriotic love from the rooftops of London. It’s ok to radiate happiness and positivity and ignore the weather. It’s ok to speak to strangers on the Tube. Crumbs.

If the Olympics was about the general feeling around the event as a whole, for me, the Paralympics was about the Paralympians as individuals, regardless of the team colours they were wearing. Basically, where the Olympics was about the 'macro' and affecting society, the Paralympics was about the 'micro' and changing people one by one.

I like to think I’m generally a positive person and at the very least, even on my darkest days, I’m a pragmatist so I didn’t need a happiness hit, especially after the great year we’ve had, but I think the Paralympics was like the BCG jab we all had at school (a strange analogy, but stick with it!). We’d heard rumours and rumblings about it, but we didn’t know we needed it until one day there was a memo, we queued up to get it, it made some of us cry, we had it once, we’re protected against TB for life, we talked about it for an age afterwards about how it affected each one of us differently (mine went straight down, with no trouble and i have a tiny scar. Boring. No dramas). The Paralympics is a shot of Pure Positivity - we didn’t know we wanted it but we got it, one day we all hustled for tickets to the unknown (Murder Ball? Wow!), we queued up and we watched in wonder, it made a nation pay attention, hold their breath, whoop, scream, punch the air and cry, and now? Now we’re protected against maudlin thoughts, cynicism, ingratitude, bad attitudes and self-pity forever. We will talk about it for a lifetime and how it changed us.
To put it simply, we are inspired, or in fact #inspired :-)

These athletes just took my breath away, and have very probably changed my life. I’m well known for my usage of the phrases (often spoken to myself, out loud!) “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “There’s always someone worse off than you, so stop whinging and be grateful!” but these people live these phrases, without someone telling them to.
Legs blown off on the front line of duty? Come home and weep? No! Come home, get well, get fit, compete on the world stage. Be amazing.

Injured, and almost died, in the 7/7 bombings by a turn of fate one morning? Sit down and let it consume you? No! Get up, find a focus, find a new purpose, compete on the world stage. Be amazing.
Sporting career ruined by an unfortunate accident? Sink in to depression about your loss, give up and let the world pass you by? No! Re-train, find a new sport, compete on the world stage. Be amazing.

Born with a body that doesn’t work in the same way, or look the same way as the rest of the kids in your class? Hide, watch from the side lines, accept your weaknesses? NO! Make dreams a reality. Ignore what other people tell you is a weakness and find your own strength. Become a sporting icon. Break boundaries, and then world records. Be amazing.

Be a superhuman. Be a real life super hero. Be amazing.

Every single person that competed in the Olympics worked hard to be what and where they are and for what they achieved. Respect. Every single person that competed in the Paralympics worked longer and harder to break down barriers so they can be what and where they are and for what they achieved. I witnessed those achievements on Channel 4, in the news and with my own eyes at the stadium and they were indescribably inspirational not to mention overwhelmingly emotional. So I suppose the only thing for it is that I do do a list of my highlights from the last 11 days. and here they are...
Seeing it live: I finally got to the stadium on the penultimate day of athletics and… I GOT TO SING THE ANTHEM! Yay! Great work Josie!

I was there!

The opening ceremony: Scientific narrative set to dance music. Shakespeare in floating umbrella-boats upon a sea of people. 62,000 people crunching on apples simultaneously. Gandalf/Magneto (see what they did there?) brandishing a human rights placard. A theoretical physicist saying words that make me weep (and not because they confuse and baffle me!) rather than yawn. A stadium full of flying, dancing, singing, partying, grinning Superhumans. Being A.Mazing.
The Belgian dog hitching a lift: The. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

The umbrella bearers: Those outfits, umbrellas and the whole concept ROCKED!

We got to belt out the anthem!
The chairman of the Paralympic committee: sitting next to the queen during the opening ceremony and head bopping to the music, delivering some rousing speeches to the world and doing so without a plummy accent. What a dude.
The polite request: As is customary, for those that are able, please stand. Of course.

Rocking our ParalympicsGB scarves!
Superhumans, jaw-dropping SUPER-humans:swimmers with no arms, rugby players in chairs, footballers that can’t see, sprinters with no legs, high jumpers with only one leg, and many more besides. Human bodies are amazing. It’s a fact. We are all in agreement. Humans that defy the odds to compete on a global platform despite severe disabilities and physical impairment? There are, literally, no words… but thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thanking the crowd!

ParalympicsGB: Amongst so many others, David Weir - what a ledge! Sarah Storey - great work! Jonnie Peacock – wow! Ellie Simmonds – GOOD. LORD!

Thiller Thursday: That is all.

Job done!

Sportsmanship and teamwork: the Germany v GB table tennis final? I can’t write it without crying, so I’ll let you look it up for yourselves! Morris and Darke attempting to share bronze in the cycling so neither lost out on the bronze after years of training together. Pistorius grabbing Jonnie Peacock after the T44 100m final and genuinely congratulating him on the win. The Marcel Hug and David Weir Bromance, (H)hugs and fist pumps for luck despite competing against each other. The way all the swimmers seemed like besties after every race, regardless of where the medals went. Heartwarming!
In fact, all the camaraderie: the athletes all seem to be the best of friends, seemed to know each other very well and respected each other enormously. They all competed with the utmost sportsmanship, they got out there and went hard for gold, but once across the line they were best friends again. Human spirit? Superhuman spirit.

The emotion: Matthew Walker’s tribute to his late father. The Brazilian 100m girls and their guides on the podium. Oscar Pistorius’ outburst and subsequent, heartfelt, apology. Ellie Simmonds every time she was in front of a camera. It was all too much. I gave up on mascara after about three days.

The stories: there are so many inspirational stories but the one that stuck with me was Martine Wright who lost both her legs in the 7/7 bombings, the day after it was announced that we’d won the Olympic bid. What a tragedy role model. When she retires from her sporting pursuits can someone convince her to set up a one-woman tour of motivational speaking appointments. I will attend them all.

Jonnie Peacock and the “shhhhhhh”: an entire stadium silenced. Breathtaking. They should hire him out for school assemblies.

Oscar Pistorius: There was fame, there was expectation, there was groundbreaking participation in the Olympics, there was that controversial interview, there was his official “apology but not retraction” statement, there was his utterly adorable actual apology interview, there was the interview after Jonnie Peacock won the gold in the 100m - exuding genuine happiness, then there was his final race and his long awaited gold. What. A. Guy! (He is also WAY hot!)
Li Duang (a blind long jumper from China): the best pre-event prep I’ve ever seen, ripping off his trousers to raucous applause. Brilliant.

Richard Brown, the sprinter, on the 100m podium: have you ever seen anyone happier? Happy happy happy!  I want him and Nicola Adams to wake me up every morning with those big bouncy smiles.
Diversity: aside from physical disabilities, what also struck me was the age range of our athletes, specifically how young some of them were. How can we still be talking about "bored young people" when talking about town facilities? Now London2012 is (sadly) over, can we send TeamGB and ParalympicsGB on a roadtrip under the banner “Aspire to be something, then you'll have something to do" (I can say that, I'm 30 now. That means I'm a ‘grown up’ and can be bossy to ‘young people’). I wish I'd seen something this inspiring when I was growing up. When I was that age I was worrying about saving up my dinner money to buy nail varnish. These kids are Paralympians… highly decorated, world famous Paralympians.
The Last Leg: Channel 4’s saving grace. Just.

The closing ceremony speeches: “Made in Britain”, Pirates as Paralympians, “Kids just get it”, Legacy. Some great, great words that we should cherish forever.
Group Mo-Bot
The Victory Parade: hours and hours standing in Trafalgar Square so I could witness Our Greatest Team (and Our Greatest Presenter, Claire Balding) drive past on trucks for 13 minutes while we screamed, waved our flags and did the Mo-Bot, en masse, a zillion times. Worth every single second.

The Montages: Jesus, Channel 4... what are you trying to do to me?!
Best. Speech. Ever
BoJo’s speech at the Victory Parade: BAFTA-worthy. Period.

The Message: a quote in the voice over of the final montage before the closing ceremony“Paralympians don’t do self pity”. What a line. What a message. No, no they don’t, and so neither should the rest of us.
And finally: My homeland is the birthplace of the Paralympic games. Inspired. Proud. Amazed.

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