‘Sport Doesnt Care Who You Are’

So. I’m still (still!) on a Paralympics high. I keep looking at the photos. Seriously, what are we all going to do when it’s over?… Oh Clare Balding, how I am going to miss you.

There were some brilliant moments that I didn’t get to mention in my previous post, but that I really don’t want to forget.

1. Walking into the Olympic Stadium with ‘Paradise’ by Coldplay playing…. I know I mentioned this last time, but it really was spookily breathtaking. We’re both a bit obsessed with that song anyway, as it’s basically about a girl who wants to run away and go travelling (*ahem*). A total once-in-a-lifetime sight. As was…

2. … 80,000 people clapping along to Come On Eileen. Great British Britishness, at its very best!

3. Searching for a particularly jovial Gamesmaker to take our picture inside the stadium, and finding one by the name of Mr Keen. Brilliant!

4. Of course, touching a medal. An actual gold medal. I know, I know, you know about the medal… but come on, how many people can say they’ve done that? Can you? Seriously, my grandchildren are going to know about that bloody medal.

5. On a more serious note, my memory of the day? This guy:

See him at the back there? He  was from Venezuela, and as you can see, he didn’t do very well. In fact, the others finished a good 50 metres before him. But when they finished, the most amazing thing happened. Everyone started cheering for this guy. I felt it – that whole enormous crowd thinking, as one, oh, go on, come on, please don’t give up. You can do it! It felt quite emotional. I just did not want him to stop, to think ‘I can’t do this’. I swear, the moment he crossed the line was the biggest cheer of the day.

I saw a brilliant advert when I was in the gym today. At the risk of going all Corporate Partner, it was by Samsung, one of the official Paralympic sponsors. And it said, ‘Sport Doesn’t Care Who You Are’.

It sparked a kind of recognition in me, that line. Throughout these Games, I’ve had my perceptions turned on their heads. I kind of thought (and I sincerely apologise if this offends anybody, as I know disability can be a bit of a PC minefield, and I genuinely don’t mean it in an offensive way) that Paralympians were, you know, “good but…”. Good with some kind of caveat. Admittedly, I knew a grand total of zero about paralympic sport before the last couple of weeks, but I cannot believe how wrong I was. They aren’t good “but” anything. They’re just really bloody good.

The fantastic Channel 4 build-up advert had a similar effect on me. You know, the one with the epic wheelchair basketball montages and slow-mos, where they’re all like, “Broke my collarbone… Meh.” Then the woman at the end goes, “I’ve broken my back, what more can I do?”

That’s the thing. That’s what this whole summer has taught me. Turns out, even if you do break your back, your body can do one hell of a lot. Your body, my body, his body, her body – anybody.

This has all coincided with a newfound love of running. I hated running before this summer, couldn’t even do a mile, but now I can run a pretty comfortable 4K in 35 minutes, and I’m hoping to make that 5 by this time next week. That might not sound that impressive, I don’t know if it’s a good time or a good pace or not. But the fact is I couldn’t do it before, and now I can.

I’ve become much more aware of my body since I started running. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s such a physical thing. The idea of self propulsion… Flying along, knowing that it’s all your own steam, is an incredible feeling. I love feeling strong, in my arms and in my legs and in my body, and while my body shape has changed it’s that feeling of strength that I crave when I miss a couple of days – not feeling guilty, feeling I have to shift a few pounds. It’s not about what your body looks like. It’s about what you can do with it.

I watched the swimming the other day, and there was a guy lining up at the starting blocks who had no arms.

‘How on earth does someone swim with no arms?!’ I thought, transfixed.

The answer? Beautifully.


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