LONDON 2012: 1 year to go until the Paralympics
In just under a year from now the 2012 Paralympics will begin in London. And I’m confident that the UK will put on the most amazing show. London 2012 will be my fourth Paralympics but the most special by far as someone born and raised in South London. I’m convinced it will be the best Paralympics ever.
I caught the racing bug when I was really young competing in wheelchair races from the age of 8. I started off representing my school, then my area of London and then I raced in the London mini-marathon. I made my international debut at 14. I didn’t compete in the Sydney Paralympics; I think I’d started racing too young and as a result I lost my focus for a while. But when I watched Tanni Grey-Thompson win several gold medals on the television at home I got really emotional – it made me realise that racing was what I wanted to do and I started training again.
The Paralympic Games returns to its spiritual home in 2012, as the UK was the birthplace of the Paralympic movement. In 1948 Doctor Ludwig Guttman organised a sports competition for a group of wounded British war veterans at Stoke Mandeville hospital, 4 years later Dutch athletes took part making it an international event. By the 1960 Games 400 athletes from 21 countries took part and the competition was officially recognised as the ‘Paralympic Games.’
We’re using the 2012 Paralympic Games as an opportunity to encourage more disabled people to take part in sport. I am playing my part in this and since Beijing I have been mentoring a number of young racers hoping some will break through and become future Paralympians. The commitment required is immense and involves an often gruelling training schedule. You have to be mentally tough, but it’s all worth it.
2012 presents a huge opportunity for disability sport and the Paralympic movement. The television coverage alone will help project the sport around the world and really help raise its profile. I hope people will see how exciting Paralympic sport is and that we work and train as hard as able-bodied athletes. We really have to make the most of the opportunity 2012 presents, the build up, Games time itself and then the ‘afterglow.’ We have to continue promoting disability sport after the Games have finished and highlight what it can do to enrich the lives of disabled people and its role in helping to build a more inclusive society. I’d encourage anyone thinking about disability sport to just take the plunge and give it a try.
The 2012 Games will be a great platform to demonstrate what the UK has achieved for disabled people on and off the track. I’ve seen the positive changes in society since I started racing. There are many more disabled children in mainstream schools now, there’s more of a positive attitude to disabled people in society in general for example people don’t stare in the street as perhaps they would have done a generation ago.
Thanks to legislation and improved access and facilities disabled people in the UK are able to live independent lives. Most workplaces now have disabled members of staff. I hope the UK example will inspire other countries to improve the lives of their disabled citizens.
The Olympic Park is a fantastic sporting site. Anyone who has visited it cannot fail to be impressed. It has been designed very much with the athletes and accessibility in mind. All the venues are so close together and the site is so green. The venues really will inspire athletes to deliver their personal best. Disability access has been incorporated into the design and structure of the buildings, open spaces and transport for 2012 ensuring as many people as possible can enjoy the spectacle of the Games.
I can’t describe what competing in 2012 in front of a home crowd will mean. I raced with a Chinese athlete in Beijing and the volume in the stadium with his home fans chanting was overwhelming. Winning gold in London would be the best moment of my life professionally.
The UK will take the Paralympics to another level in 2012. It’ll be the biggest Games yet in terms of competitors, audience and profile. I want to use this opportunity to encourage people around the world to be part of the 2012 Paralympic experience. I hope the 2012 Games demonstrate how sport can unite across communities and highlight how many cultures are represented in the UK. Every nation really will have a home crowd to cheer them on.
Paralympic tickets go on sale on 9 September. Come along and be inspired.