GB heroes return: ‘inspiration’ should not be a dirty word

19 October 2016

by Barney Cullum

London Mayor at the GB Heroes Return parade in London

Like millions of others I’m intoxicated by the Olympics and Paralympics when they roll around.

I’ve followed the Paralympics particularly closely this year and I’m well aware not everyone feels the same way.

Some feel Paralympians are misrepresented with too much emphasis placed on their disabilities.

Others feel the day-to-day impact of health conditions can be underestimated through overly focusing on a few hundred superhumans.

On the occasions where Olympians and Paralympians get to share a platform, as was the case this week for the ‘Heroes Return’ parades in Manchester and London, people are united by what they have in common rather than any differences.

Aiming for Tokyo

Dee Wilson at the medal winners' paradeI spoke to Dee, a member of the crowd with ME and osteoporosis who told me she had come to see the first Olympic gold medal winning boxer, Nicola Adams.

‘When she started out people dismissed Nicola Adams as a woman in a man’s sport, but they don’t say that anymore.’

Dee relates to Nicola because she is used to being dismissed herself.

‘I am 60 next week but I have been receiving archery coaching for eight years and want to compete at the next Paralympics in Japan.’

I read so many articles over the summer saying it was patronising to call disabled athletes inspiring — either patronising to the athletes or to disabled readers.

Many of these columns were missing the point, in my opinion. Ellie Simmonds is inspiring, but so are Michael Phelps, Tom Daley and — for Dee and many others — it's Nicola Adams.

Not everyone can become a Paralympian but Dee was not the only member of the crowd dreaming of Tokyo.

Next level dedication

Hannah MooreHannah Moore, from Dorset, travelled to London with her mum to see Hannah Cockcroft on stage.

The 20-year-old has befriended her namesake, who won three gold medals in wheelchair racing events in Rio, through taking part in all-ability triathlons.

But her inspiration for getting into disability sport was her partner.

‘I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome in 2012 but only had my foot amputated six months ago.

‘My boyfriend is also disabled and I began training with him.’

Hannah now trains twice a day, a dedication she feels will take her to the next level.

Life changing

Someone who knows what it feels like to compete at a Paralympics is pistol shooter Issy Bailey.

The 22-year-old competed in Rio this summer, just three years after being paralysed from the waist down in a car crash.

I caught up with her in amongst the selfie throng under Nelson’s Column.

‘Even if your dream isn’t to become an Olympian or Paralympian, your life changes when you take up a sport.

‘You’ll meet friends, you’ll get out there and you’ll achieve more than you thought you would.’

Opportunity to be inspirational

Cockcroft recently told the BBC the word ‘inspirational‘ has lost its meaning.

Richard WhiteheadI felt like I found it, talking to the crowd in London. But it comes from many sources.

As the tickertape subsided, I asked double Paralympic gold medal-winning sprinter Richard Whitehead for his thoughts.

‘When you put on a GB tracksuit, that’s all about having the opportunity to be inspirational, taking it, and delivering that inspiration. For me, inspiration is a word people need to embrace and take ownership of.’

Barney Cullum is a freelance journalist — covering the games for a range of organisations — and is an external communications officer for Leonard Cheshire Disability.

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