Shelagh Fogarty: A feast of humanity, talent and plain old grit
Saturday 25 August 2012
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.
Eden Hazard exclusive interview: All is rosy in the garden of Eden
Arsenal vs Monaco: Theo Walcott 'involved in spat' with fans after Champions League defeat
Paul Scholes: Jose Mourinho's attempt to influence football's decision-makers is not working. In fact, it may have backfired
It's time to stop the 'small club' jibes after Chelsea signed £200m Yokohama deal
After record-breaking £5.136bn Premier League TV deal, why are Everton the only British club to win in Europe?
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East