As we begin what must be the most anticipated ever Paralympic Games, we already know that we have an uphill battle.
In the wake of our Olympic medal turnout being modest but still very competitive, we know that Team GB has to maintain the dominance that we have been used to in the Paralympic Games. After all, in Rio 2016, we were second only to China.
The Olympic Games has its flaws and, in my personal opinion, the Paralympics are an equally flawed but necessary celebration of our Disabled athletes – and their even more incredible achievements.
The history of the Paralympic Games
It could be suggested that the United Kingdom ‘invented’ the Paralympic Games, through Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s work as a Neurologist at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Born in Germany, he fled as a small child with his family from Nazi persecution. Guttmann became a British citizen in 1945, and his career led him to believe that exercise and sport could play a role in extending the quality and life span of spinal injured patients, at the time mainly veterans of the Second World War. He refused to believe that nothing could be done for the indirect life expectancy of two years for paraplegic (lower limb) patients and encouraged participation in sports and games as a means of rehabilitation.
It is therefore no surprise when you think of the literal fight for life at Stoke Mandeville that the Tokyo Paralympic mascot is called “Someity”, which originates from the cherry blossom “so mighty’. Our Paralympians have had to adjust their training schedules and thrive with the lack of facilities and support and still risk their health to travel to the games. I perceive this as a mighty achievement indeed.
The pandemic and Paralympic Games
Coincidentally, due to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic, we have seen increased community organising by and on behalf of Disabled people in Bristol. Both long and short Covid can cause permanent injury or illness – increasing the amount of people with ‘invisible disabilities’. People affected will also require rehabilitation, and will benefit from the physical and mental health benefits that sport and physical activity brings.
One lesson we can all take away from living through the pandemic is the value of our physical and mental health. We all need little encouragement, whether you have been motivated by the Euros or the Olympics, or are about to be inspired by the Paralympics. I urge everyone to follow and celebrate the Paralympic Games with equal enthusiasm and to encourage your friends and family to start moving once again and enjoying doing sport, as well as watching it.