Jonnie Peacock wins 100m Gold in Rio
I’ve got to be honest with you – I’ve never been able to get ‘into’ the Paralympic Games. I love watching all kinds of sports on the TV. I love the Olympics, but try as I might, the Paralymics have just never fired me up…until now. Now, I am totally mesmerised and inspired by the disabled athletes I am watching perform at the top of their game in Rio.
So, what’s changed?
I am no longer an able-bodied athlete who is competing in her sport. My body is a little bit fucked at the moment. I know that my disabilities are not forever, so I am in no way equating myself with the long term disabled, for whom there will be no end to their pain and discomfort. But I can connect.
I can now fully empathise with these athletes in Rio. I watch them with awe. They don’t evoke my sympathy, they make me feel that anything is possible. I look at their strong, muscular bodies and I feel inspired by the work it has taken them to get into that shape. I see them as ambassadors for grabbing life by the balls and squeezing every last drop of pain out of it until they have reached their goal.
I see these men and women, and some still only children, as true warriors. The hurdles and barriers they have overcome to reach the pinnacle of their sport is astonishing and now, I can really feel it.
I can feel it because everything I do at the moment hurts. I am one handed and one legged. It hurts me to walk and even more to stand. I’ve temporarily lost use of my right shoulder and my right middle finger is currently out of action.
Every day these Paralympic athletes hurt, but on top of this hurt, they train. They are pushing through pain barriers that I can only begin to imagine, as I stand and teach on my broken foot, before collapsing in agony on the sofa. These guys are the nuts and am really enjoying watching them compete, with a newfound sense of awe.
Because of course, it’s not just the physical barriers that disabled athletes must overcome, it’s the constant discrimination that they have to face. I admit that I struggle with this too. I struggle to know how we should approach the subject of disability. What is acceptable? What will offend? I started thinking about what disabled people find offensive while I was reading a review in the Times yesterday for, David Brent: Life on the Road, in which he sings a song about disabled people and apparently the lyrics contain the line: ‘hold a disabled person’s hand, if they’ve got one.’ I was reading this with the Paralympic Games on in the background. It made me squirm, which I am sure is the reaction that Ricky Gervaise wants from us.
So it was with real interest that I watched Channel 4’s show: The Last Leg, which gives a light-hearted preview of the Games. It is presented by Adam Hills, who sums it up as, “three guys with four legs talking about the week” and it works – brilliantly. It works because the presenters, two of whom are disabled themselves, joke about disability, but they know what to say. David Brent they are not. It has me in stitches with comments like the one made on last night’s show about our national anthem: ‘a person with no arm and no leg singing to God to save a multi-millionaire…what’s all that about?’ Suddenly you realise that disability can be talked about with humour, it can be talked about openly without fear of offending and I find this extremely liberating. Far from distracting from the Paralympic athletes’ achievements, it embellishes them. It makes us realise that we don’t have to tip toe around their disabilities, because it is those very disabilities that have made them the people they are today.
At last I feel that I personally have far more freedom in my thoughts for people with disabilities – I have never been prejudiced, I just didn’t quite know what I could say. Finally, I feel that I can connect with these athletes, these inspirational forces of power and strength, who just refuse to lose.
Dame Sarah Story – 12 Paralympic Gold medals
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