Why one year on from the Paralympic Games I will travel the length of the UK in my wheelchair
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/.Tagged in: paralympics
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