Wheels: Journeys through Paralympic Sport

James Moore
paralympicsSTUARTGROUT Wheels: Journeys through Paralympic Sport

Photo by Stuart Grout

Fear not. If you’ve got a disability you’ve got a shot at gold! Seriously. Get on your wheels, or your sticks or your walkers and get yourself down to the Paralympic selection offices. Rio awaits!

I’ve had this quite a lot. People seem to think that being booked on to a charter flight to Brazil with Team GB in a couple of years time should be a breeze. All you need is an impairment, and you’re away!

Reality check. I may participate in a Paralympic sport (wheelchair basketball), but so do hundreds of others, and you can be fairly sure that Team GB’s talent scouts don’t have journalists the wrong side of 40 (just) who’ve lived fairly full lives and could do with losing a few pounds at the top of their lists.

This is not me putting myself down. I love playing wheelchair basketball, I want to play it competitively and well, and for several years yet.

It seems that I’m not without a certain amount of ability, and I’d hope to turn myself into a reasonably useful lower league player before too long.

But I’m an elite athlete like Qatar is a suitable venue for a football World Cup.

Try something else then, some have suggested. One relative in all seriousness urged me to take a shot at trap shooting with a view to a South American adventure, as if my close encounter with an oil tanker had come with the side benefit of turning me into Bullseye, the Marvel super villain whose superhuman accuracy keeps Spiderman and Daredevil busy.

Unfortunately there was no radioactive spider around when I got hit. Nor were there any cosmic rays, power rings, or Kryptonite. Regrettably it would take at least one of that lot – and perhaps more – to improve upon the lamentable performance I produced when I participated in a shooting weekend in aid of a military charity a while back.

Put it this way, no one was saying: “Have you thought about a career in the forces? We could use a man like you.”

The military needs people who can actually hit targets when they’re holding a rifle. So does the Paralympic shooting squad.

The thing is, I’m not the only one to have had people putting me up as a potential Paralympic gold medal winner despite my rather obvious lack of top class athletic potential.

Recently I spoke at a seminar on utilising the media for small charities, most of which had some involvement with disability, that was organised by the excellent people at Transport For All.

Many of the attendees were also disabled and it seemed they too had experienced the same thing when the subject came up in the course of our discussion.

This troubles me a bit. It’s as if people think it’s easy. As if the stars of the Paralympics somehow don’t have to put in the blood, sweat and tears that the stars of the Olympics have to put in. In reality, getting to either is something only a tiny number of people will ever do. It takes an insane degree of dedication just to get a foot or a wheel in the door.

The upsurge of goodwill towards disabled people during the Paralympics was nice to see (even if it was sadly only a short term thing) but there was a little too much of the “wow, did you see X, isn’t they so inspiring how they overcome their impairments” for my liking.

They are inspiring, but only in the same way any athlete who does something incredible is inspiring.

I suppose I may have fallen into the trap by calling this blog “journeys in Paralympic sport” when I might have perhaps called it journeys in disability sport. But I think I’ve made it pretty obvious that this blog is about the experiences of a grass roots enthusiast who is keen to try out sports that are in the Paralympics rather than of someone who will be getting to the Paralympics.

The people who end up competing at the next games are people who have impairments, but they are also people who have physical gifts that enable them to play sports at the very highest level. They have to work phenomenally hard to exploit those gifts.

We need to get to a place where we accord them the same respect as we accord to elite sports people who happen to be able bodied.

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  • rogerw117

    Journey’s? For heaven’s sake!

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