C4 reveals the warm and witty side of our Paralympians
View From The Sofa: Inside Incredible Athletes, Channel 4
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Monday 30 August 2010
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."
Latest in Sport
Louis van Gaal says he is inheriting a 'broken' Manchester United squad
Luckless Abou Diaby full of confidence as he attempts yet another Arsenal comeback
Manchester City's #AskJesus Twitter takeover quickly descends into chaos as Premier League champions are trolled relentlessly
Manchester United latest: Angel Di Maria move no closer as Juan Mata emerges as Louis van Gaal's favoured No 10 as prospect of signing
Arsenal transfer news: Versatile Calum Chambers is a 'gamble', admits Arsene Wenger as Arsenal spending passes £50m
- 1 Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
- 2 Christians: The world's most persecuted people
- 3 The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 4 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
- 5 Denmark bans kosher and halal slaughter as minister says ‘animal rights come before religion’
The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...
£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...
Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...
£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...