So it’s the last day of the Paralympics and the countdown to the closing ceremony has begun, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who can admit that they’re sad it’s over. I’m going to miss Channel 4’s celebratory approach to the games; using humour without lessening anyone’s achievements, being informative without being patronising, and being inspiring without being exclusive. This wasn’t a games for disabled people, it was a games for everyone regardless of physical or mental impairment, coming together to celebrate humans. We’re a species of all different shapes and sizes, spread across 7 continents and it’s so uplifting and occasionally overwhelming when there’s an occasion for them all to unite and celebrate each other.
And I think that’s why I love the Paralympics more than the Olympics. Sure, I did log more time watching the Olympics, with the BBC’s 8 dedicated channels covering the majority of the events, but the Paralympics… it just felt better. And I do think that’s a testiment to the Channel 4 coverage, they made it more personal. They introduced us to the athletes on the Last Leg, they showed us what people with disabilities are capable of in the ‘We’re the Superhumans’ trailer leading up to the games, and they used humour to keep us all engaged every step of the way. It became transendant of disability, it was all about watching elite athletes take the main stage and show us exactly what they’re made of, and I’m going to miss that on my TV screen.
But I think why it hits home most for me is because I went to my home Paralympic games in 2012, as a 19-year-old girl using the overdraft from her bank to bag tickets. Usually I wouldn’t- if you know me, you know how bad my anxiety can be- but the fear of missing out that time was just too great. Which is odd because normally I ignore the fear and just regret it afterwards. But not this time. This time I went.
By the time the Paralympics started I’d moved back to Winchester to get ready for the beginning of my second year at university and I had no TV or internet to watch the games, and I hadn’t even told anybody I was going to the games. For some reason my anxiety about telling my parents that I’d bought tickets (me thinking they’d say it was a waste of money and judge me for it) was greater than my anxiety to go alone to London during one of the busiest events they’ve ever held. My mind is weird.
And it was the best experience of my entire life. Granted, I haven’t lived that long and my life has been quite sheltered, but that shouldn’t take away from how incredible it was. Even going alone with the stress of the crowds and security and having no one to talk to.
On the 4th of September 2012 I saw the women’s wheelchair basketball, something which has become one of the highlights of the Paralympic games for me this year, and the athletics in the evening.
I’m sorry I don’t have more to say about the basketball but I want to focus on the athletics. Because for me, with my anxiety as bad as it can get and a chronic fear of judgement, I was worried about cheering too much or not enough, about using my phone too much or too little, missing out on events because I was trying to take photos of something else… a whole myriad of different things. But when David Weir came past our section in his final lap of the 1500m, we were all on our feet, screaming and cheering and it holds such a sense of pride for me that I always get a bit emotional thinking about it. Not one of us sat down for that final lap, and it was the first time I can ever remember just being one with a moment- not worried about what stupid thing I said in the past, or dumb thing I’ll do thirty second from now- we were all just huddled together, one big mass of cheering, all my self-consciousness and anxiety momentarily gone as we witnessed greatness proving that the last 4 years of training were worth it. And they were.
They broke a 19-year-old girl out of her shell of anxiety for a night and it meant everything to me, I’ll never forget it and I never want to.
Hopefully you’ll see me cheering from the sidelines in Tokyo.
I’d like to leave you with this clip, that to me truly embodies the spirit of the Paralympics and what it means to people all across the globe: