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No lesser game

As I watched the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, I couldn’t help but think how much I thoroughly enjoyed them. I can’t remember any other Olympics where I saw such keenly contested competition and such an awesome display of what the games truly do — unite us.

Of course the majority of my enjoyment came from our athletes who represented the Caribbean like never before in a record number of disciplines allowing us to reap a total of 18 medals.

I have to say that I am a proud Caribbean woman; moreso after watching how we made a huge mark and impact on the world during the last 16 days. However, the “Games” aren’t over as yet. As soon as the athletes clear out of the village, the Paralympians move in and get ready to put on a show that is equal to that of the Olympians.

From August 29 until September 9 we will see them competing in practically every event you saw the Olympians take part in, and more, ranging from archery to sailing, judo, wheelchair fencing, swimming, equestrian and sitting volleyball.

Unfortunately, while there will be some manner of coverage, there are still many who don’t even know the games exist. The Paralympics had very humble beginnings and can be traced back to World War II and the efforts of a doctor from England named Ludwig Guttmann who was also known as the “Father of Sport for People with Disabilities”, just over 50 years ago. Guttmann was a strong advocate of using sports therapy to enhance the quality of life for people who were injured or wounded during World War II and had a dream of persons with disabilities being able to compete in games that were on par with the Olympic Games.

The Paralympics Games include six major classifications of athletes: persons with visual impairments, persons with physical disabilities, amputee athletes, people with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries and Les Autres — athletes with a physical disability that are not included in the categories mentioned above (e.g., people with Muscular Dystrophy).

In earlier times, the Olympics and Paralympics were held at different times, but in 1992 this all changed and they are now held within two weeks of each other using the same venues and the same organising committee. I see this as a big win for the Paralympics since everyone is on a high from the Olympics and there is mileage to be had from those games leading into even greater expectations of the Paralympics.

I was really heartened when I visited the Paralympics homepage to see that over 2.1 million tickets have been sold so far with over 600,000 being sold in the last month alone. This is indeed a record number and these games are set to be the biggest in their history.

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympics Committee said: “To have sold the most ever tickets for a Paralympics Games three weeks before the Opening Ceremony shows the insatiable appetite the public has for top class elite sport. So far London has delivered a quite spectacular Olympic Games which has further whetted the appetite of the public ahead of the Paralympics.”

I believe he’s right. A friend of mine said that when you truly like sports you can enjoy it in any form once there is good and keen competition. It matters not whether the athlete comes packaged in our traditional way of thinking, but what Paralympians have succeeded in doing is being able to produce a world class games that can stand alongside any Olympic games that have gone before or that is yet to come.

Also, don’t think for one minute that the Paralympians want to achieve the status of an Olympian. What exactly do I mean by that you ask? Paralympians in no way see their games as second class or just a mere shadow of what the “true” Olympics are. They see themselves as equal and worthy of every accolade which will be bestowed upon them not because they are Paralympians but because they are athletes.

David Taylor is the lone Barbadian who will be flying the flag high in London for us in swimming and he is of course — like anyone else — looking to medal. He has represented us at various meets in the past, including the Pan Am Games and Beijing in 2008 and is proud to have been chosen to play his part in putting Barbados on the map. When I wrote about him back in May he was training heavily and I know that he will put everything into his event.

I’m very excited now to see the skill and execution of some of these events. It’s amazing to see the level of grace and class which these same athletes bring to the games. I deliberately refrained from using the “d” word to describe the opposite of “able-bodied” in this article because there is such quality in the Paralympians that the word seems like an insult to these athletes who are at the top of their class.

I’ll end with a little snippet from Oscar Pistorius. He said when he was a child growing up with his brother Carl, his mother used to say: “Carl put on your shoes. Oscar put on your prosthetic legs.”

So he grew up not thinking he had a disability, he grew up thinking he had different shoes. No wonder he’s the legend he is today! He was shown and taught from an early age that he was no different and that anything was possible. What a lesson for all of us!

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