Earlier today, I overheard a young man saying that he felt the Paralympics shouldn’t be related in any way to the Olympics. When he was asked why he thought this, his response was “the Olympics are about the athletic elite, I reckon an able-bodied person would be able to surpass the Paralympians.”
This exchange got me to thinking. I wondered what the general public opinion of the games was. Certainly, this is the first ever sold-out Paralympic Games and I personally admire everyone taking part. I also admire the people who took part in the Olympics earlier this summer. The amount of training, dedication and determination can’t be easy otherwise everyone would be doing it!
However, if I had children, I’d want them to look at the participants in the Paralympics and see what inspirational people they are.
Some of the athletes appearing in the Paralympics were born with some sort of impairment. It is easy to say “they know no different” however it is a sad fact that people, and often children, are cruel to those who are different. There will be many of the participants who have endured bullying due to their disability. And let’s not forget that many of the illnesses require tough physical therapies or multiple surgeries to get to where they are today. I cannot imagine how gruelling that must be.
And let’s not forget the people who have been injured in the line of duty; many former soldiers are competing in these games after being injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Can you imagine standing on an IED and it exploding? I can’t. Can you imagine the pain and psychological scarring that must occur in a situation like that? To become a soldier, you must be physically fit; can you imagine lying in a hospital bed for months, wondering if you will ever walk or swim again? I can’t.
There are other people who have been in the wrong place at the wrong time: 7/7 victims, people injured in road traffic collisions, who through some terrible accident may have lost their sight and so on. I will never be able to understand what those people must have felt. Guilt at having surviving? Anger and bitterness at being caught up in an act of terrorism? Grief at the closing of one chapter in their lives?
I will never understand the situations that have taken these people and turned them into differently-abled or how they impacted on these people’s’ lives and mental health. However, the amount of obstacles that the Paralympians have faced simply to be able to function on an every day basis would be insurmountable to many. I don’t think I would be able to accept such a gargantuan change in circumstances and then go onto thrive. Not only are these athletes amazing in their sporting achievement but long before they’ve entered the Olympic Stadium, the amount of tenacity, temerity and mental strength that has been employed is almost beyond me.
It isn’t just a case of training every day (although that is obviously involved further on the path to the Paralympics). It is a case of adapting to dressing, showering and preparing food with a missing limb. It’s a case of learning to read braille and adapting to a loss of sight. It’s a case of trying to overcome depression, anxiety and/or post traumatic stress syndrome. It’s a case of finding out which friends and relatives can cope with the change in your circumstances. It is a case of keeping going when suicide can appear a reasonable alternative. I am sure there are many other hurdles that have to be faced before one can even consider exercising. The strength of character shown by these Olympians is immense.
And that is why the Paralympics should be screened worldwide and everyone should think about how inspirational the athletes really are.