A Day at the Paralympics

As we near the end of the London 2012 Games, I know I will look back on this summer as being an unexpectedly lovely, uplifting and heartwarming experience, as I have watched London come alive in celebration of both our country’s heritage and the achievements of the athletes who have come to compete here. I don’t usually get all mushy about these mass participation events, and I certainly wasn’t bothered by the Diamond Jubilee earlier this summer, but something about the Olympics being hosted right under my nose has been so exciting and inspiring. Unlike other such national celebrations in the UK, this hasn’t revolved around the monarchy, but instead has been about celebrating ordinary people with extraordinary abilities who have worked hard to achieve their success, and I for one am very happy to get behind that sentiment.

I have loved walking around London, seeing the signs and flags fluttering, seeing tourists from all over the world with their faces painted in their national colours and flags draped over their shoulders, seeing the Olympic volunteers in their pink and purple tops, seeing the rings and the Agitos symbols in all sorts of prominent places, and generally feeling the buzz of a city united in excitement and enthusiasm, proud of hosting a Games that is being lauded as one of the best since the modern Olympics began. However, as wonderful as soaking up the atmosphere has been, it’s not quite the same as actually getting to see the athletes performing in the flesh. I tried multiple times to get tickets, and had resigned myself to giving up, when last Friday I idly went onto the ticket website and was delighted to see available tickets for the Paralympics at a price I could actually afford on the last day of my holiday before starting work. Perfect! I swooped in and bought tickets for a range of events in the ExCel centre; sadly not in the actual Olympic Park, but an opportunity to see the athletes and the venues was not to be missed regardless!

So, early on Monday morning my mum and I got the train to London and headed out to the ExCel centre, surrounded by similarly excited people with their Team GB tops and flags and caps and all sorts of other patriotic paraphernalia. From the second we arrived at our stop, we were swept up in a wave of high spirits as the tube workers sang and danced their directions to the venue , the volunteers lining the route from the station to the entrance high fived and shouted greetings to us all, and music pumped out amidst the flags and banners depicting the various sports we were about to see. I could barely contain myself as we flashed our tickets and went into our first arena to see the Boccia.

Boccia is – from what I understand – a version of boules played in wheelchairs, and like all Paralympic events, there are different competitions within each event to ensure that athletes are playing against those with similarly matched disabilities. To be honest, it wasn’t the most thrilling event to watch, but this was because we didn’t really understand the scoring system and couldn’t always see the target the players were aiming for! However, it was great to see all the things you see on the TV; the umpires, the cameramen, the press, the coaches, the podiums…and the tears of the medal winners! After watching a couple of Boccia matches, we made our way over to the Table Tennis arena, where we watched a tensely fought match between the British and Slovakian female athletes who were battling for third and fourth place. The crowd were on their feet with every point the British athlete won – sadly she was defeated, but you’d never know from the whoops and cheers coming from the audience! At the same time we watched the Swedish athlete win Gold on the court behind; she was in floods of tears and we all stood up to applaud as she did her lap of honour. It was so lovely to watch someone achieve their dream.

Finally we rushed over to the Sitting Volleyball court to watch the English men’s team play the Germans; always a pairing of countries that guarantees an interesting competition!! We barely managed to get into the arena; it was absolutely packed, which was wonderful to see as I know that traditionally the Paralympics has far fewer spectators than the Olympics, and I think it’s a real shame that disabled athletes aren’t given the same support as their able bodied colleagues. The atmosphere was electric; the action was fast paced, powerful and incredibly tense. Despite a huge amount of support from the stands, the British team lost the match, but they looked absolutely thrilled at the turnout nonetheless and gave us lots of waves and thumbs up from the pitch when the game was over. I’ve never seen disabled athletes compete before, and it really opened my eyes to the diversity of sports there are to enable people who have a huge range of disabilities to participate in athletics, no matter how limited their movement or senses. The Paralympics is no less significant or thrilling as the Olympics, and I hope that London 2012 will pave the way for more high profile and well attended Paralympic competitions in future. I was humbled by the incredible triumph over adversity that I saw and I was thrilled to be able to see London 2012 in action and support our wonderful athletes. I have even been inspired to improve my own fitness…I’ve bought some trainers so who knows where this may lead…you might just see me at Rio 2016!!


  1. mel says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this! We aren’t hearing very much about the events here in the United States. I wish we would hear more about it. I have a son who participates in Special Olympics – he has Autism. It is so great to give everybody opportunities. You wrote a very lovely post!

    I am a fan of your blog and first time posting.

    1. bookssnob says:

      You’re welcome, Mel! Yes I wasn’t sure if other countries were broadcasting the Paralympic games – it’s on one of the major free to view channels here and is getting just as much attention as the Olympics, which is fabulous. That’s great about your son – I quite agree, everyone should have opportunities to fulfil their passions.

      Thanks very much – it’s lovely to ‘meet’ you and I hope I’ll see you around more often! 🙂

  2. Darlene says:

    How thrilling, Rachel! Is it just me or are the paralympians finally getting the media coverage they so rightly deserve? We have seen so many exciting changes, as well as acceptance, in sport recently. I’m rooting for a particular young man I know to make the sledge team for the next winter games…fingers crossed, Jordan!
    Glad you were finally able to get some tickets and had such a good time and I’ll get to work on that 2016 banner, okay?

    1. bookssnob says:

      I think so, Darlene! It’s been great to see how much attention they have been getting – their achievements are no less significant than their able bodied colleagues and it makes me angry that the Paralympics is an afterthought for most people. That’s amazing – go Jordan! Thank you – yes please – I am going for High Jump!

  3. Margo Boylan says:

    Great Post ….. We too enjoyed the games and thought they were the best ever. Especially enjoyed the first part of the opening ceremony. Went online and found the entire ceremony on replay….beautiful. What a thrill even the second time around. Best wishes in your new job…would love to hear more about it. Are you going to school to be a teacher or are you actually teaching now. I have been following your posts for quite some time now and find it most interesting as you move along on your path of growth and fulfillment. I have read many of the older books that you review….because of your reviews. Thank you for expanding my reading pool. Fondly, Margo Boylan in Old Forge, NY (The Adirondacks)

    1. bookssnob says:

      I’m really pleased to hear that Margo! The Opening Ceremony was wonderful wasn’t it? I just loved it. Thank you so much – I just started this week and am training in a school so I am kind of teaching but also learning at the same time. I really appreciate your lovely comments and support – it’s good to know you are reading along!

  4. denise says:

    The paralympics have received quite a bit of media attention this time – more than normal it seems. I see China are still at the top of the medal count regardless.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes, it’s been great to see the excitement around them! Yes I know – they do have a bit of an unfair advantage don’t they?!

  5. Sounds like fun! I wish the Paralympics were being televised here in the U.S. I’d love to get to see some of them.

    1. bookssnob says:

      It’s such a shame they’re not being televised in the US – it’s so interesting to learn about new sports!

  6. Jo says:

    It’s funny how people see things, for me all this Olympic stuff has been nothing more than ‘ok’. It has definitely been ‘London’s’ games and has very little to do with the rest of us – it may as well have been in a different country. We have loved watching our athletes do so well but haven’t really got any buzz and general excitement. I wonder whether there will be any leagacy for those of us not fortunate enough to live in or near London? Now the Jubilee, well we felt like we could take part in that on an equal footing for some strange reason. Nowt so queer as folk! Glad you had a fabulous time though! Not at school yet?

    1. bookssnob says:

      I’m really interested to hear about your perspective, Jo – I suppose mine is skewed a little as I am local and have been able to see London and all that is going on there. I’m sorry you haven’t felt very involved or felt the excitement – I can absolutely see that the Jubilee would have delivered more on that account! I am at school…it’s a steep learning curve but I’m having fun!

  7. joanhunterdunn says:

    So pleased you managed to see some events. We were at the Paralympics on Friday cheering on the track & field events. It has been amazing. Are the children at school talking about it?

    1. bookssnob says:

      You have seen everything, you lucky thing! 🙂 Yes – in my Year 7 form today almost everyone had been to something – they’ve all been inspired!

  8. c'est moi! oui! - le BOP! says:

    So you’re at school now? Don’t forget your sandwiches, satchel, apple, and Anna Karenina. Oh R, its been lovely to read your blog for (maybe) 3 years now and now this is like a culmination. A change to a new phase. Miss ‘R’. Miss, I know the answer. Miss, can I go to the toilet. Miss, Frances just kicked me. Miss, I get what you mean about Lord of the Flies and do you have ideas about more books I can read? Miss, I haven’t done my homework…..

    I was in Spain during the Olympics and thus saw little of it but it captivated me! Watching runners near the Mall, etc, and I enjoyed sporting performances too, from a Spanish bar! And the opening ceremony was a delight – televisual, better on TV which is what I saw.

    Right. Time for bed pour moi</i), chere, R. Plus tard – le Bop.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Bop! I am indeed at school – it’s been exhausting so far but absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to get properly stuck into teaching! I have a Year 7 form which has been interesting…they’re so tiny and nervous, and I have spent most of my time so far giving cuddles to crying girls who only come up to my waist!!

      Glad you got to see some of the Olympics – always nice to hear how people have got behind the Games even when they’ve been far away!

  9. This post was very inspiring. What fun you had! Thank you for sharing. I would love to see the Paralympics get similar coverage as the other athletes. I would like to know the story behind the person. They build up the other athletes, telling us about their “journey”. These people should get the same coverage.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks so much, Janet! I quite agree. There has been very good TV coverage here but not AS good as the Olympics. There is a definite feeling that the Paralympics are ‘second rate’ and I would love to see that change and have the paralympians given the same praise and attention as olympic athletes.

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