C4 reveals the warm and witty side of our Paralympians

View From The Sofa: Inside Incredible Athletes, Channel 4

If you were recovering from a broken neck and contemplating a whole, and alarmingly different, new world, the arrival of Sir Jimmy Savile at your bedside might or might not act as a fillip. But perhaps it does help as a gentle reminder that you still have your marbles.

"He'd come and tell you a joke and fuck off," recalled Mandip Sehmi of his time at Stoke Mandeville after a car accident that left him paralysed from the waist down. "He's nuts, wandering around with his cigar and gold bracelets. Nuts."

Sehmi is a wheelchair rugby player and one of the featured athletes on the first of Channel 4's series of programmes that are intended to make household names of a string of Paralympians before the Games arrive in London in 2012. Yesterday marked two years until the Games open so there is plenty of airtime available to achieve the channel's laudable ambition. Their tales are compelling – the athletes have a back story above and beyond their able-bodied contemporaries and the (no doubt carefully chosen) seven who star in the series come across as articulate, thoughtful and personable, which again marks them apart from a host of sportsmen and women.

There was a directness to Inside Incredible Athletes. There was no skirting around what is, after all, the central issue. These are not normal people. "As a youngster I didn't consider my self disabled," said swimmer Liz Johnson. "I am disabled. There is no getting away from it. There are things I can't do that other people can. Bam."

Their achievements are not normal. Their competitive spirit is not normal. Their abilities are not normal. And, for a variety of reasons, they are physically different to most people. Johnson has cerebral palsy. Lee Pearson was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which means his limbs are bent and twisted. Stefanie Reid lost a foot after being hit by a boat's propeller. Dave Clarke was born blind. Jonnie Peacock had his leg amputated. "How do you tell a five-year-old they are going to lose a leg?" said his mother. They are also all supreme athletes, as this beautifully shot film amply demonstrated.

It was warm and witty television; Pearson chiding his partner for accepting a free car wash from some Croats – "Gay Croatians, when did that happen?" – or watching his pack of pint-sized dogs taking a walk on his treadmill; Peacock's goggle-eyed enthusiasm when he pulled on his Team GB vest for the first time and found himself running next to Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner himself.

I interviewed Pistorius once. Within a couple of minutes he had eagerly rolled up his trousers to show where he ended and the prosthetic began. He also told a story of how his school "mates" had hidden his legs one night in their boarding house in South Africa and then set fire to his bedside locker before waking him up yelling "FIRE!" They had, he said, then collapsed in hysterics at his panicked reaction as he scrabbled around for his missing limbs. "The thing is," he said echoing Johnson's assertion, "I didn't mind because when you are a kid you just want to be treated like everyone else."

The desire to fit in never leaves most people, but some always stand out. Johnson was filmed swimming in a roof-top pool in a private members' club in east London, not far from the Olympic Park itself. An extravagantly dressed woman in a towering white wig stared at her as she walked past.

"You can't change reality," said Sehmi, a gangly young man who plays what is a pretty violent game – broken ribs are not uncommon. "Sport is everything. I love it."

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Music Teacher

£110 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: We are l...

A Level Chemistry Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Part-time A Level Chemist...

Teaching Assistant

£12000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Secondary Teaching ...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?