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Why one year on from the Paralympic Games I will travel the length of the UK in my wheelchair

para 1024x768 Why one year on from the Paralympic Games I will travel the length of the UK in my wheelchair

It is one year since the Paralympic Games

Today I embark on an unusual journey, which for me will also be a uniquely difficult challenge: I am going to travel the length of the UK, from John O’Groats to Land’s End, in my electric wheelchair.  My departure will coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Paralympic Games, an event that I found utterly inspiring in its promotion of what disabled people can achieve.  I hope that my own efforts will, in their own way, be a contribution to the Paralympic cause.

Now, I’m never going to be a Paralympian: just as, though I’m a huge Spurs fan, I’m never going to step out in the white-and-blue at White Hart Lane.  What I think I can do, though, is take the baton from those athletes who represented not only their country but their fellow disabled people with such distinction.  And I can do that by demonstrating and overcoming the hurdles that we face not just in sports stadia, but in our daily lives.

A perfect illustration of this is the fact that I can’t undergo this trip alone: I’ll need a full-time carer, and fortunately my girlfriend Kasia will be accompanying me on her bicycle.  Since my upper body strength isn’t the best, I will also need to travel with a large piece of equipment, called a “hoist”, which as its name suggests will help to lift me out of my wheelchair each evening.

I’ll admit to feeling a mixture of enthusiasm and anxiety.  After getting all of the sponsorship and logistics in place – a triumph of organisation which was almost Paralympian in itself – I’ve been able to turn my mind solely to preparation, and have recently completed a gruelling day where I covered 30 miles.  During the trip itself, my daily average will be ten miles more than that, and if the trial run is anything to go by it’ll be exhausting.

The build-up to my challenge, whilst frankly knackering at times, has also been somewhat poignant.  Last year, as part of my European Disability Roadtrip – where I drove around the continent in my Motability car, including through my grandfather’s homeland of Lithuania – I visited Poland, where I met a couple, Boguslaw and Teresa.  Boguslaw, an international speedway champion who now uses a wheelchair following an accident, is campaigning to change attitudes towards disabled people in Poland.  Though I do not feel that I am campaigning as such, I hope – through endeavours such as this and my online platform, Disability Horizons – that I am as successful in helping people to confront their attitudes as these two friends of mine have been.

As disabled people, we often absorb the often well-meaning but ultimately negative messages from the society around us: messages that we deserve pity for being in wheelchairs, that it is an achievement for us just to leave our homes.  What I’m trying to do, through recording my adventure across the UK through video and regular blogs, is to help many of us to understand – and, hopefully, to lower – the barriers that disabled people face every day in our society.  That, more than anything, will be how I bear witness to the Paralympic legacy.

Martyn Sibley is an ambassador for Britain’s Personal Best, a project inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and delivered by the Society Network Foundation. To learn more about Britain’s Personal Best, and to register, like Martyn, a once-in-a-lifetime challenge of your own, visit http://www.whatsyours.org/.

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  • jester68

    Unfortunately, by its’ very nature, this trip is nothing but a “stunt”, for want of a better word. This being the case, it is outside the everyday experience of disabled people and, therefore, has little to contribute to the fight for equality. Furthermore, non disabled people will “learn” nothing about the daily lives of disabled people or the issues that need addressing.

  • redwin

    I believe that what Martyn is trying to achieve is very commendable and inspiring. Particularly for those who are led to believe that having a disability means you have to stay indoors and can’t do great things. My friends and I will be wishing you success all throughout…

    Remember that this is something that the majority of able-bodied people have never thought of doing… and even less have attempted to do. Go for it and good luck!

  • bobbellinhell

    I think that anyone who supported the para£ympic$ needs to think again about how the government’s apparent attitude to disabled people during that event differed from the attitude they ordered ATOS to show to real disabled people.

  • Ed Scott

    The Para games proved nothing – & as for the “legacy”… This stunt is a meaningless waste of time & likewise will prove nothing.

  • Ed Scott

    Absolutely right.

  • dn41

    Agreed! What ‘legacy’? The only ones who gain from the olympics/paralympics are the athletes and corporations. The benefit to wider society is non-existent.

  • dn41

    “I believe that what Martyn is trying to achieve is very commendable and inspiring”…..and pointless.

    I really don’t understand why disabled people constantly feel they need to prove something by taking part in all these pointless challenges such as climbing mountains, bungee jumping etc…


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