Over the Summer I, like millions of others around the world, have been following the Olympics, fascinated by finely tuned athletes doing amazing feats that most of us can only dream about, From the comfort of my sofa, cup of tea and chocolate biscuit in hand, I watched Jessica Ennis stunning gold medal performances cheering her on with a passion I normally reserve for Welsh rugby. Admiring her female six-pack somewhere in my distant memories I recall having one similar to that, I then remember my gym membership card which has been shoved in the useful things draw for the last few weeks. Note to self must get it out.
As a family we watched Tom Daley’s bronze winning performance, laughing at how Tom Daley was having the biggest party in the pool whilst the Chinese athlete seemed devastated to have only come away with Silver. (His mum obviously didn’t tell him that winning isn’t everything, it’s the taken part that counts)
My 5 year old watched the gymnasts in awe and for the next few days she tried to do stretchy wonderful things with her body, attempted handstand, perfected her crab and took running jumps on to things she really shouldn’t! We were all inspired by what we saw.
Then came the Paralympics, the super humans. I must admit I do have mixed feelings with that term. However political correctness aside I was looking forward to these events. I wanted my boy to watch some of these events (apart from the rugby, no it’s not a case of wrapping him up in cotton wool but what mother allows her son to play murder ball!)
Anyway.. my son has recently been saying I can’t. I was hoping that watching the Paralympic athletes would show he can. I explained to him that some of the athletes had the same condition he has. (and like my mother used to tell me there is no such word as can’t)
The four of us sat down to watch the Paralympic opening ceremony. I was silently praying that Sir Paul McCartney was not making an appearance on this one. My son fell asleep at the Olympic opening ceremony so I expected much the same from him this time but as the athletes paraded into the stadium something shifted in my 10 year old’s eyes. Here were ‘people like him’ we had a running commentary on the type of wheelchair, the man with no hand, the one who had no leg, he asked question after question and he was fascinated! These athletes were being clapped and cheered and they weren’t running in, they had wheelchairs like him, a scooter like he has. I could see the change in his face and as the athletes waved to the camera he started to frantically wave back. Finally something he could relate to and something that could tell him ‘he can’.
He then got very concerned about the performers suspended in their wheelchairs from the ceiling, asking if they had their seatbelts on.
Over the next couple of weeks I made sure that he could watch some of these games and see that yes although these athletes have very real disabilities they can still accomplish great things. You can dream big despite having a disability and you can achieve and be successful.
As a mother I always try to instill these beliefs in both my children, I want them to grow up and be confident, have a sense of achievement, have unfailing hope. This is fairly easy with my 5 year old girl, she is flourishing, naturally clever, very pretty (I am biased) and has oodles of confidence. With my boy though it is slightly harder, born with a genetic condition, which is progressive and no cure (at the moment) how do you keep that hope alive? How do I keep encouraging him that he can, knowing that each new skill he learns he will lose again, that as things stand today at some point in the future he will lose the use of all his muscles? The truth be known there are some things he can not do. Surely even the best mother I think must struggle with this at some point. Of course he is gorgeous and he is gifted but when he looks at his peers, when he struggles with school work,b when he sees his sister tearing around like a loon and when he watches his sporting hero’s it pushes him deeper into I can’t…
However you put my boy into a social setting and by God he can! My son can talk for Team GB if there was a category for talking he would win gold medal hands down. (those of you who know him are now cheering him on from the sidelines, nodding your head and smiling to yourself as you recall his many questions, and again I apologise profusely for his inappropriate ones)
These Paralympics showed him something of I can, knowing that some of these young Paralympians had the same condition as him, gave hope and gave a tangible sense of I can and it wasn’t just to me and my son but actually to a whole community who are often told you can’t. Some of them had even come from Scotland to London showing him that he can travel and be independent. It encouraged us and spurred us on. During the opening ceremony a friend on twitter told me that Holland was alive and kicking and throughout the Olympics we started to embrace Holland a little more (If you don’t know what I am talking about read the link at the bottom of the page)
The Paralympics was not a celebration of disability it was about sport. Journalists were actually told that focusing on the athletes impairments would be considered unnecessary. Focusing on someones disability goes completely against the social model. Putting that to one side, the Paralympics brought disability to the forefront of the nation, it brought wheelchairs, it brought prosthetics into our sitting room and it ‘normalised’ it. For two weeks at least, people started to see past the disability and past the aids and they saw the athlete. They saw the I can.
Peoples opinions have started to change and long may that continue, hopefully my son’s teachers will have been inspired, his peers, his friends and they will start to see he can. Oh and let’s not forget about the other mums, those that look on with pity as you take your child into school (thankfully I don’t know many of them)
Lord Seb Coe summed it up at his closing speech
“In this country we will never see disability the same way and the Paralympians have lifted the cloud of limitation”
I have seen my children inspired by what they have seen, and I hope that inspiration moves on to aspiration. Inspiration often runs cold doesn’t it, I know that as my gym membership card is still in the useful things draw. Aspiration is an internal thing, it’s about mind and spirit it’s not just a warm feeling after watching someone do something amazing. Our Team GB Olympians and Paralympians have done both they have aspired to do great things and in turn they have inspired a generation, that was the logo of the games after all. This government needs to follow on from this and we as individuals need build on this. The word lasting legacy has been used a lot in the last few weeks, I hope it’s not just a term the ministers are playing with. For disabled young people in particular I pray there truly is a lasting legacy with,amongst other things, more sporting opportunities things need to change as even in 2012 our mainstream society is still not the most accessible.
Our young people disabled and non disabled need opportunities that make sense to them, they need to have the space and the opportunity to dream and to achieve and we need to give our children the chance to succeed, the courage to aspire to great things because after all it will be their turn to inspire the next generation.
Dont just be inspired by great things aspire to do great things..
My job as a mum is to ensure that both my kids can turn this inspiration into aspiration and so I have chased up my little girls gymnastic lessons and have looked into the boccia clubs for my boy.
The gym membership card is still in the useful things draw, well 2/3 aint bad 😉
PS the bit I mentioned about Holland, you can read the poem here its called Welcome to Holland http://www.journeyofhearts.org/kirstimd/holland.htm