Shelagh Fogarty: A feast of humanity, talent and plain old grit

 

The last time I was in the same village as thousands of disabled people was on Easter Monday a couple of years ago. It was Lourdes in the South of France and there wasn’t much sport going on but, as I prepare to cover the Paralymic Games from London for BBC Radio Five Live, I suspect the two experiences will have something in common - and I don’t mean miracles.

In a world where we know disability still attracts at best ignorance and at worst, abuse, a blind girl I spoke to in the French town put it very simply. It’s the only place where she feels completely free from both. Lourdes, she said, is a place where her disability is of no consequence because there, it is commonplace. The village’s whole purpose is to welcome those usually deemed outside the norm. Yes, some go hoping for miracles, but the majority I spoke to seemed to have gone to tap in to the shared atmosphere of the place and just express themselves with like minded people. Oh and have enormous fun, too! Very important, that.

Ringing any bells? If the Olympics told us anything it was that when young, determined people come together to try to achieve their best, to entertain, and to show great character come what may, we are all the better for it. When those young people have already overcome great difficulty, the spectacle takes on an added dimension.

I’ve spent this week interviewing many of the athletes who’ll compete at the Paralympic Games and while their disability is of course a key part of their story, they’ve long got round it and are now simply athletes raring to go.

These athletes, just like the Olympians we’ve marvelled at already this Summer, remind us that ability and disability are relative. The people on the track will often be more able than those watching from the stands. If that thought doesn’t stop us underestimating disabled people, nothing will.

So when the Olympic Stadium comes to life again next Wednesday, prepare to meet some new stars as well as those Paralympians who’ve already grabbed our attention. There’s Oscar Pistorius (above), of course –  “the fastest man on no legs” –  who will make history by competing in both London 2012 Games. Swimmer Ellie Simmonds was the youngest British athlete at Beijing, where at the age of 13 she won gold in the 100m and 400m freestyle events in her classification.

She has achondroplasia, a disorder of bone growth which causes dwarfism. The schoolchildren who swamped her in Trafalgar Square for autographs when tickets first went on sale didn’t seem to notice. She’s a superstar as far as they’re concerned.

The Paralympics will be bursting with human stories and I can’t wait to tell them. Some will be about disability but, truthfully, I’m packing my bags for the Olympic Village to witness another feast of sport, talent, and plain old human grit. See you there.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
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.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower