I am of course talking about the Paralympics. Words don’t really do justice to what took place at the Opening Ceremony, or what has taken place since. The events and images redefine what it is to be human and any boundaries that were present, if they are still there, are only in peoples’ minds. We have the chance to challenge preconceptions – we are asked to redefine the term ‘to win’ because these people are already winners – their medal has already been won because they have worked with the element in their body that makes what they want to achieve extremely hard, perhaps near impossible, and turned it into an enabling force of action, not a disabling force of inaction.
British athlete Richard Whitehead winning the 200 metres
The more we see of the Paralympics, the more David Bowie’s song ‘We Could Be Heroes’ becomes the suitable theme tune. And let us not forget that many athletes have had a battle to win to even get to the UK and take part. Their battles begin at home where it is a challenge to get funding, to train, to even get enough food – as if life is not hard enough with a disability. The stand-alone figure of Houssein Omar Hassan from Djibouti, who came last in the 1500 metres after hurting his ankle earlier on in the race. His motto to keep going represents millions of people who do just that. He ran alone, clapped and cheered by 80,000 in a stadium in East London, and in him we could see, if we wanted, a world very different to the UK where any other day is not cheered; the will to live comes from the person themselves.
The sight of Hassan waving was a statement – ‘I am here, I am what I am (to echo the song in the Opening Ceremony) – don’t forget me and my country when all the races are won…the race of poverty still needs to be won.’
And I do not resent the back stories of the athletes being highlighted as some people seem to. Let us not forget that the disablities of many many of these athletes are caused by the cruelty of man, in the name of war:
One of the atheletes from Sierra Leone lacks his left arm because it was hacked off in the civil war; there are a number of former soldiers taking part who were injured in Irag and Afghanistan…the list is sadly not exhaustive. One of Prof Stephen Hawking’s lines from the Opening Ceremony was
‘the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge’
and I think this could not be more appropriate as we get to know these athletes through their disabilities.
Prof Stephen Hawking
The Opening Ceremony was fantastic at showcasing the arts as a way of exploring the human person and its limitless possibilities:
Our idea of ‘a dancer’ was redefined – performers, whether sports people or actors, dancers, artists can be anything – there is no framework which we fit into:
David Toole with his amazing dance routine in the Opening Ceremony
It is these super humans who give us the framework for life: there is no framework – the message of the Paralympics is be who you are – make the box fit you…not you fitting into the box.