Wednesday, 29 August 2012

ENABLED

I confess I have changed my mind about the Paralympics.  There has been much in the news in the last few days about the preparations for the Games.  We are daily besieged with stories about the athletes - the extraordinary story of 7/7 victim, Martine Wright; the unlucky tale of fall victim, Tom Aggar; the heart-wrenching account of birth deformity victim, Lee Pearson.  All my emotions have been attacked, and successfully at that; I am amazed at how these paralympians have not sat back and accepted their fate, have not hidden themselves away in misery and self-pity, at what they have  achieved.  But I never got much further than that.

I haven't exactly felt sorry for their disabilities; they have made sure of that by their heroic success in their sports.  Yet somehow there has been the niggling feeling that that these might not be real sports.  I wondered whether adapting able-bodied sports, so that others can take part, actually made them a separate and real sport.  And I wasn't sure whether watching disabled persons trying to run or jump or hold a racquet was somehow prurient or voyeuristic.  Could I be bothered to watch something that wasn't really the Olympics?  Would I feel enthusiasm and not just pity for the paralympians?  Would I be able to pay attention to the competition at all?  What emotions would I involuntarily display whilst watching a blind football match?  Could I in fact actually enjoy seeing all these victims of events on my TV screen?

I confess I have changed my mind about the Paralympics.  There has been much in the news in the last few days about the preparations for the Games.  We are daily besieged with stories about the athletes - the extraordinary story of 7/7 victim, Martine Wright; the unlucky tale of fall victim, Tom Aggar; the heart-wrenching account of birth deformity victim, Lee Pearson.  All my emotions have been attacked, and successfully at that; I am amazed at how these paralympians have not sat back and accepted their fate, have not hidden themselves away in misery and self-pity, at what they have  achieved.  But I never got much further than that.

I haven't exactly felt sorry for their disabilities; they have made sure of that by their heroic success in their sports.  Yet somehow there has been the niggling feeling that that these might not be real sports.  I wondered whether adapting able-bodied sports, so that others can take part, actually made them a separate and real sport.  And I wasn't sure whether watching disabled persons trying to run or jump or hold a racquet was somehow prurient or voyeuristic.  Could I be bothered to watch something that wasn't really the Olympics?  Would I feel enthusiasm and not just pity for the paralympians?  Would I be able to pay attention to the competition at all?  What emotions would I involuntarily display whilst watching a blind football match?  Could I in fact actually enjoy seeing all these victims of events on my TV screen?

Well, my first mistake was to call them victims.  I suppose it is just too difficult to imagine what one would do in circumstances similar to these athletes.  The world is now geared to supporting the disabled, although not always as well as we like to think it is - former paralympian, Tanni Grey-Thompson, tells the story of arriving at her home station late at night and finding that the staff to help her from the train had gone home.  But, on the whole, out attitudes have changed immensely since the days when the disabled were shut away at home or in institutions.  And I am so proud that the paralympic movement (which began in Britain) has changed others' perceptions too; China for example has moved dramatically from a sense of shame at disability to one of pride in their athletes.

But the key point is that the athletes themselves are far more aware of their disadvatages in life than I am.  They have made it clear in interview after interview that they understand all my doubts and accept that my emotions will be mixed.  But they themselves are as fired up as any Olympic athlete and, if you thought Olympians were competitive, boy, you should see an athlete with a disability compete!  Here for example is the link to the Channel 4 Paralympic programme promotion:  http://youtu.be/kKTamH__xuQ.  They see their challenges and achievements no differently from Olympic athletes.  And what's more they want me to see them that way too.  So I shall.

The Opening ceremony is tonight and I am looking forward to it as much as I was the Olympic Opening Ceremony.  I shall try to see the athletes just as competitiors.  But I certainly won't be able to forget that they are not human beings in the prime of their lives.  They are simply superhuman beings.  Go Team GB!!

I think I've been enabled.

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