Sunday, 16 September 2012

Paralympian Excellence

The video above shows Oscar Pistorius running 400m in 46.68 seconds, on blades rather than feet, at the London 2012 Paralympics. Meanwhile David Weir completed the wheelchair marathon on 1 hour 30 minutes and 20 seconds, and Ellie Simmonds swam 100m in just under 1 minute and 15 seconds. It gives a whole new meaning to the word 'disability'.

Of course these are not just any 'disabled' athletes, but the cream of them making the most of their opportunity to excel at the sports they love. That, I think, is the point of the Paralympics: it gives people a chance to excel on the world stage who would otherwise be excluded (Pistorius being the exception). Athletes can demonstrate the greatness of their spirit who are outside the standard Olympic parameters.

The Paralympics are the pinnacle of a pyramid, one which spreads throughout the UK and many other countries as well. A pyramid which challenges athletes to achieve their potential, to prove their abilities. The best of them move up the pyramid, and the best of the best take part in the Paralympics. But everyone taking part in parasports, at any level, has that opportunity to excel. As long as they work at it.

In recent years there's been a strange idea that if we "only believe" we can achieve great things. The strength of the human spirit is said to be so overwhelming that self-belief is enough to achieve greatness. Or, in its religious version, that faith and prayer are all that is needed to get God to fix things for us.

Life just doesn't work like that. Surely the message of the Paralympics is that yes, the human spirit is wonderful, and yes, we need to believe in ourselves, but these only make a difference if we work incredibly hard to make things happen. The effort, self-discipline and sheer hard slog required of a Paralympian are frightening, but what they achieved with that effort was even more inspiring.

Surely every one of us had some sort of "if they can do that, what is stopping me from doing x" moment during these games. The human spirit, backed by hard graft, can indeed achieve unexpected greatness; just as faith and prayer, worked out in trust, can change the world around us.

You are a remarkable person: you can excel, given belief, hard work, and the spirit within you.

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