The London Paralympics

Alison Lapper Pregnant Opening Ceremony

Everyone seems to be talking about them; all the papers are full of the stories of these Olympians we've never heard of before. Is this just because it's going on in London? What’s happening?

They are what's happening.

This incredibly impressive bunch of disabled people is conquering London and the world, without even trying, it would seem. Their stories fill the papers, such as the English woman, Martine Wright, who lost her legs in the attack of 7/7, and the Spanish man, Sebastian Rodriguez, who turned his life around and now is a star, with 13 medals to his name. Not to mention the fastest-ever Paralympian, the Irishman Jason Smyth.

They aren’t trying to impress, or look ‘normal’, or even win. They just do. People so severely disabled they can’t enter the pool alone burst forward at such lightning speed that one totally forgets they have no arms to propel them forward. Zhen Tao of China - amazing! And our own Jonathan Fox, the beautiful Mr. Fox. Riders on fabulous horses manage them elegantly and with such panache. Lee Pearson looks every inch the part. Basketball players without legs move around with such alacrity that your eyes have trouble following the ball, never mind the impediment of the thrower.

And yet, the opening ceremony was so touching because - with great bravery - the organisers had put a giant statue of a very disabled women right in the centre of the stadium. We here in London know that image of Alison Lapper (it graced the plinth in Trafalgar Square a while ago), but to show it to the world was a proud statement of difference that was spectacularly well chosen.

Alison Lapper Pregnant Opening Ceremony

London is the home of the Paralympics. Dr Ludwig Guttmann had the idea in 1943 in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and that incredible, enlightened idea was shown blossoming in 2012. Poetry in motion, be it golden wheelchairs swinging in the air; people descending from on high gracefully; or the raucous chorus of Spasticus Autisticus, Ian Dury’s 1981 hymn at the finale, it all came together as a celebration of difference. The organisers had really accomplished a miracle: a smiling, friendly staff so helpful you couldn’t believe you were in London, and the echo of that, smiling, friendly punters.

The message was loud and clear: it is OK to be different. We all have something to offer, and positively accepting difference can help us all. And while we can’t all be Olympians or Paralympians either, we can all come together to celebrate achievement. We have come a long way since the defiant, explosive Spasticus Autisticus was banned from the airways. Let’s celebrate that as well!

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