Parafest: 'I feel like I'm superhuman now, not subhuman'

Robin Scott-Elliot pays a visit to the first Parafest, set up with the intention of building on London 2012 success

Gary Rhys's left leg is new. It's well polished, a glistening black. "Before London I never wore shorts," he says looking down at his leg. "I used to feel self-conscious. Not any more, I'm proud of it. We're not sub-humans any more, we're super humans."

Rhys has just taken a cycling fitness test, supervised by Gareth Sheppard, performance manager of British cycling's successful Paralympic team, and is considering what to do next. There is no shortage of choice on offer around two adjoining sports halls. In one corner, Ben Quilter, a judo bronze medallist in London, is demonstrating how to hurl an opponent to the floor to an appreciative audience of schoolchildren. Some are disabled, some are non-disabled.

This is the first Parafest, an idea formed in the build-up to London and put into practice some two months later with a degree of anxiety. It is part-fun day, part-talent spot, part-banging the drum and mostly about momentum, the momentum of those two weeks in late summer when the Paralympics demanded the nation's attention, and held it. But sporting attention wonders easily in this country – there is plenty to be distracted by – and the challenge to those who run Paralympic sport is to make sure a moment in late summer does not prove a high-water mark.

In the second sports hall, Natasha Baker, double dressage gold winner in London, watches others sit nervously on top of a horse, a simulator rather than the real thing – the sprung wooden floor is no place for hooves. Everything else is here, every Paralympic summer sport has its own corner of this Surrey sports hall. There are rowing machines, a racing chair of the sort David Weir propelled to his four gold medals attracts plenty of interest, more chairs shimmy and dart around another part of the hall where wheelchair basketball has staked its turf, and by the door Alan Sheriff, another Paralympian, lets out a piratesque growl as he spears a young man in a fencing demonstration.

"People are not jumping out of the swimming pool when I get in any more," continues Rhys. "It is what London has done for the psyche. We feel like we are part of the mainstream, that's what 2012 has done. Having one leg has become cool!"

This was a suck-it-and-see event, a first step into the realities of a post-London world. What did the Paralympics achieve above and beyond the east end of London? Can it begin a real change in perceptions? And most importantly can it last? Rhys says yes. As does Mikey Hughes, a blind 36-year-old from Glasgow who had flown for the day down to take part. "London has inspired me," he says. "Its impact will be massive."

"Today shows it will not be a high-water mark," insists Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive of the British Paralympic Association. "It's about momentum, not legacy. Legacy is the word you use when you have got somewhere and you want to sustain it. We are not there yet.

"Unquestionably London has changed perceptions. But it must be qualified by what remains to be done. Anyone from the Paralympic community or the broader disable community who assumes that the power of London means that all the challenges, problems of accessibility have gone is wrong. But equally you can say we have an opportunity to do something about that because of London. It's not that it changed everything but it is the single biggest opportunity that we have been provided with to instigate change. We have to find ways to use sport."

Outside sending a team to the Games, putting on an event such as this is the most significant outlay the BPA has made. After Beijing talent-spotting events were staged around the country – ones that discovered Jonnie Peacock, Hannah Cockcroft and Mark Colbourne, all gold winners in London – but this is a different scale all together. Over two days some 800 people are expected at the Surrey Sports Park on the edge of Guildford. It is planned to lead to similar events in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as another in England, and from them it is hoped athletes will be discovered to compete in Rio in 2016.

There is a wider purpose, too. Sports participation among disabled people is twice as poor as among non-disabled – one in six to one in three. This is supposed to help show there is a way to become active. Access remains a problem.

"Days like today are really important to give that awareness of the presence of disability sports," says Quilter. "This really can make a difference to somebody discovering a sport that they have never done before. If two people go away from here to do the sport it is a success."

Yesterday Tanni Grey-Thompson was in the east end of London to publicise a project by Sport England to help fund better facilities for disabled sports people. Grey-Thompson is no longer the lonely figure she once was – the only Paralympian widely known to the public. Three of the multi-decorated dozen who make up the shortlist for the BBC's Sport Personality of the Year are Paralympians – Sarah Storey, Weir and Ellie Simmonds. A dozen years ago Grey-Thompson was unable to get on to the BBC's stage after finishing third as there was no ramp fitted. London has accelerated the gradual change since the start of the century, but Grey-Thompson has already voiced concerns that with the Paralympics out of sight, disability will slip out of people's minds again.

"There is a big journey still to come and there is lots of evidence how many wider areas of society are not responding to disability issues in the way they should," says Hollingsworth.

Yesterday though was about putting into practice a means of keeping the momentum Hollingsworth speaks about going, the power of the positives. "We see it as part of our responsibilities to open the door," he says.

Upstairs from the sports hall a queue, some disabled, some non-disabled, formed as Baker signed autographs, her two chunky gold medals around her neck. "London has changed my life," she says. "People look at disabled people in a different way. The perception has changed from a negative one to a positive one because of London."

Facts in figures

13: Number of sports GB won medals in at the 2012 Games

4,302: Athletes from 164 National Paralympic Committees participated

120: Medals won by GB at this year's Paralympics

3: The position GB finished, the target was second place

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?