As the sun came up in Yorkshire, the Paralympics’ closing ceremony was concluding, an event that can only be described as the most adaptable 2020(21) Paralympic and Olympic Games in history!!
For the past couple of months, we have been able to switch on the TV and watch the athletes perform in a variety of sports. Some sports new to the games (including skateboarding & climbing), some sports attracting very young athletes (Japans’ Kokona Hiraki; medallist at 12yrs) and then there are those athletes who continue to defy age (Australians’ Andrew Hoy; medallist at 62yrs) and the record books (Sarah Storey; 17 Gold medals to become Britain’s most successful Paralympian).
So, this blog, is a few of my thoughts, (sat in my garden) on what has been a very tough 5 years for the athletes.
I have been in a very privileged position in my career, based at a University which attracted some of the World’s best athletes, in sports such as Triathlon, Decathlon, Rugby 7’s, Cycling, Tennis, Swimming, Diving, Athletics, Football, Netball to name a few. Many of those athletes utilising the support of many staff and colleagues, on and off the field of sport. I have also had the fortune to be part of that support staff, whether as a Lifestyle advisor or as a coach working with athletes for part of their journey.
Throughout my time in sport, I have seen the hard work, the endless hours, the sacrifices the athletes (& coaches/families/friends) have needed to put in, to just continue their sporting journey. The resilience that many have had to face, due to the endless setbacks, the bumps in the road and the change of direction some have had to face. But I believe, the hardest part of the journey, and the one which needs the courage, is the decision to just begin it, and as Lao-Tzu (Chinese philosopher) once said:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Truly inspirational stories have come out of Tokyo, and not more so, than the stories behind the athletes. These are very evident in the Paralympics, as for some of the athletes, who have acquired their disability and adapted, they’ve taken the opportunity to start a new pathway on their journey. Some have changed sport, moving from wheelchair basketball to wheelchair tennis, some have changed careers from military to athlete, some have moved classification, but the one thing that unites everyone, is the love of sport and the endless hours it takes to follow a dream.
As a tennis coach, I worked with Antony Cotterill, one of GB’s 2021 Wheelchair Tennis players, for several years. As a coach, I enjoyed the hours on and off court, understanding the hours needed to make the slightest of changes technically, or watching hours of match play to develop the tactical edge. As such, when it was the turn of the Wheelchair tennis on our screens, I was hooked. Watching the players who I had spent many hours with in very different settings. And it is the Wheelchair tennis, where I have seen such highs and lows, watching the players leave everything on the court, only to narrowly lose a match by a few missed shots, and seeing the true heartache of coming 4th, missing out on the podium. Watching the players talk to the media after such losses with such professionalism and leadership qualities, knowing that they are breaking inside. Sport is a wonderful thing, but at times so cruel.
But rather than pause here, a few days later, the National School Games commenced, and it was the turn of the next generation of wheelchair players. Those also who had had the courage to start their journey, those that were inspired by the athletes they had watched on their TV screens, their heroes, their role models. And to the athletes in Tokyo, who literally left everything on the court, thank you. Thank you for being the ones who inspired the next generation, thank you for wearing your hearts on your sleeve and there will be many parents, children who have watched the Paralympics for the first time, and now gone to bed dreaming that anything is possible. It is now our role to help those dreams to come true, and help introduce the athletes to Boccia, Blind Football, Wheelchair Tennis and make activity available to all.
Finally, well done Tokyo, you truly adapted and created a true spectacle of sport. Thank you to all the volunteers and staff, behind the scenes, who have made the athletes feel welcomed and helped them achieve, what to many, have been their dreams come true – to be a Paralympian. I do hope we get a chance to see the stands and stadiums built in Tokyo, full of spectators and noise in the forthcoming years.
And Paris……. I hope to be one of those spectators, shouting and enjoying the atmosphere in the stands in 2024. But until then, let us help to make the start of the dreams happen.
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