So, when you read this, it will all be over. The sporting venues will be empty and that emotional roller-coaster that we shared this summer will have come to a halt.
I know I won’t be alone in shedding a tear or two. This has been an incredible time and I’m so glad to have been a tiny part of it.
It didn’t start like that – as I have mentioned previously my natural cynicism came to the fore. London couldn’t possibly cope with such a magnificent event – we just weren’t equipped. The transport network would collapse, and we would be a laughing-stock. How wrong was I?
They said it would be the biggest and best Paralympics in history, I didn’t think for a minute it would be, but it has.
On my first trip to watch some Paralympic action we travelled by bus, tube, DLR, cable car and river boat. I saw London from a whole new perspective and I fell in love with it.
Everywhere the mood was upbeat, still on a high from the Olympics – but not knowing quite what to expect from the Paralympics, we eagerly clutched hold of our tickets for events that we had never heard of – let alone seen before.
Goalball, blind football, sitting volleyball and wheelchair tennis were just a few of the remarkable sports my son and I got to watch.
There were many more on offer and many we caught up with on TV. Wheelchair basketball and ‘murderball’ were popular with Leo,10. One legged high-jump and blind long-jump, guided running, cycling, the swimming… I could go on. So fantastic to watch – all of it.
The various categories confused us but we read up. My son asked questions about the different disabilities, I didn’t have many answers but together we found out. We talked about athletes with cerebral palsy, visual impairment, learning difficulties and amputees – conversations we have never had before. Barriers have been broken down and the word ‘disability’ didn’t seem appropriate. These Paralympians have been able to do far more than I could even dream of. My son – an aspiring athlete himself – watched these ‘super-humans’ in awe and we celebrated all that they achieved.
We have been on one amazing journey of discovery this summer. Travelling to parts of London we’d never been to before, seeing sports we’d never heard of and hypnotised by the greatest show on earth.
Oscar Pistorius – what a name, and what a man. He has done an incredible service for Paralympic sport, but there are many more. The ParalympicGB team made us so very proud; Ellie Simmonds, Jonnie Peacock, Sarah Storey, David Weir, Richard Whitehead and so many others. I had never heard of them prior to these games – but now they are just as famous as Usain Bolt.
I haven’t ever been particularly patriotic but what has happened this summer has been impossible to avoid. Never has the Union flag been so prevalent. A groundswell of ordinary people united by a common image.
A whole new generation of kids are now wearing the flag with pride. Thanks to Stella McCartney it’s cool to be seen in the GB garb.
It’s not some misguided, silly or jingoistic pride, but a real sense that something special has happened here.
There’s talk of a seismic shift, and it’s noticeable in an obvious way in London – where strangers only tend only speak to you if they really have to. People are talking to each other – even on the tube. Ok, let’s not get carried away with the idea that it will last, but, just for a while longer can we savour it – bonding over this shared experience?
The shift has affected us in all sorts of ways. At my local supermarket recently I noticed a woman in a mobility vehicle. A couple apologised for blocking her path and moved out of her way. I’m sure this was a novelty for her, and reckon prior to the games it would have been her that had to move. There seems to be a new respect – or am I just being naive and overly optimistic?
On another note my youngest son (4) was in the garden hopping up and down and just about to throw a tennis raquet across the lawn. Before screaming at him to stop, I asked him what he thought he was doing. ‘Pirilamplics discus” (sic) he said. He’s caught the bug too.
I’m sorry that the people of the USA didn’t get to watch these games. They have missed out on great entertainment and a unique experience. It’s been said many times that they’re the best Paralympics ever – it’s not hyperbole – it’s absolutely correct.
Never have I been so glued to the television (didn’t care a jot about Celebrity Big Brother this time round) or tried so hard to get event tickets (you couldn’t get me away from that 2012 site). It paid off though and I feel completely privileged to have played a part (only a spectator but a vocal one!) in London 2012.
So, where do we go from here? Now that we are talking more freely perhaps we will begin to take more of an interest in the issues faced by those with disabilities – obvious and hidden. Perhaps policy makers will begin to listen and positive steps can be made?
Gold medalist Sophie Christensen, who has cerebral palsy, spoke of the horrendous public transport system in London – one simply not geared up for easy access. She told the Guardian: ” The Paralympics has improved London transport in terms of the number of helpers. But in terms of actual physical access, they haven’t done anything. I went to Vienna at New Year and their underground system was amazing. The tube would come up, the platform would level with the carriage and a little ramp would come out of the carriage. It really put London to shame.”
Transport for London (TfL) realise there is a long way to go but has just announced that manual boarding ramps – which helped spectators using wheelchairs to travel to the games- will be retained for the next few months in 16 stations. It’s obviously far from perfect but it’s got to be a move in the right direction.
Of more concern is the news that prior to these games,disability ‘hate’ crimes were on the rise. Around 1,942 were reported last year – a figure that has apparently doubled since 2008. Charities believe this may be because of Government policies, and a prevailing rhetoric suggesting those claiming disability benefits are ‘scroungers’.
Jackie Ashley wrote about the importance of these Paralympic Games before they began. Difference and diversity should be celebrated, not targeted she said.
We have certainly celebrated – now it’s time to move forward and see if that seismic shift has had an impact particularly on those who govern. The Paralympics must become more than just a good memory.
It’s looking hopeful. A new Mori poll shows that eight in ten British adults believe that Paralympics 2012 has had a positive impact on the way disabled people are viewed by the public.
In response Lord Sebastian Coe said: ”’The real challenge is to maintain sustainable and meaningful change.”
Let’s hope this isn’t just rhetoric, but is a new reality.
So we bid a sad farewell to London 2012. It’s been one hell of a summer – simply the best.