Rachael Latham: This is our turn to shine – in the sporting arenas and in the TV studios, too

All these athletes have stories to tell – and they put in the same effort as able-bodied athletes
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I've been dreaming about the London Paralympics since 2005, when the city was awarded the Games. I was only 15, but my only thought was to make sure I would be there when it happened. When I was selected for Team GB for Beijing, my dream seemed to be on track. Two years ago, an injury ruined my plans – in a sporting sense at least. But I will be there at this home Paralympics, with a microphone. And I couldn't be more excited.

When I was born, they had to yank me out and the nerve endings in my left arm were damaged. I was diagnosed with Erb's Palsy. Doctors suggested I go swimming to help with rehabilitation, but being young, I just wanted to be quick. That meant I only used my legs and right arm. And I was quick: I'm the world record holder in the 50m butterfly. But by the time Beijing came around, there were problems with my right arm, which was taking a lot of strain. I came fifth in the 100m backstroke final, which was a real achievement in the circumstances, but soon I had to admit my career was over. My world crumbled.

Channel 4's recruitment drive to find new presenting talent for the Paralympics has meant that my dream to be involved in the London Games has, in the end, come true – albeit not as I had hoped. It has taken me a while to get used to asking the questions rather than swimming the races – I'm an athlete at heart – but now I'm at a new stage in my life. For many people, the face of the Games is Ellie Simmonds, who became the first person to break a world record in the Aquatics Centre in March this year [in the 200m individual medley]. Sixteen-year-old Hannah Russell is also one to watch, but look out for the Americans. Jessica Long is the Paralympics' very own Missy Franklin. The story of the Games could well come from the stadium, though. Team GB's Jonnie Peacock has the edge over Oscar Pistorius in the 100m sprint. The competition across all sports will be tighter than in Paralympics past – no one will be able to say "well that looked easy".

It's time for the public to embrace the fact that these athletes put in the same hours and the same effort as able-bodied athletes. When we say we work hard, we aren't just making it up. At my swimming club, I trained with able-bodied athletes stroke-for-stroke. It's going to be a great experience for the viewer – these athletes all have stories to tell, and the scale of television coverage will be ground-breaking.

More disabled youngsters will want to get involved in sport. Perhaps one day, when people glance at someone on wheels, they won't just think "that's someone in a wheelchair", they'll see another member of society. But for now we should look to tonight's ceremony, and after that the sport. It is going to be fantastic and I can't wait to watch.

Rachael Latham is a Channel 4 Paralympic swimming presenter and former Paralympian