The 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games have come to a close and it’s fair to say the 16th
instalment was the best yet! There were world records, amazing feats of athleticism and
even a post-match proposal. But putting aside the inspirational stories and incredible role
models on display, I found myself reflecting on some key takeaways...
Today’s blog will be the first in a three-part series on the Paralympic Games; stay tuned for the others
being uploaded soon...
Part 1: Para = Parallel
Interestingly, Paralympics is actually a portmanteau of Parallel and Olympics; as in, a competition held
parallel to the Summer Olympics. Not Paraplegic Olympics, as I once thought. The first Paralympic Games
were held in 1960, six days after the closing ceremony of the 14th Summer Olympic Games in Rome, Italy.
While considered the first Paralympics, they were actually the Stoke Mandeville Games until the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially used and approved the term Paralympic Games some
24 years later. To confuse things even more, the 1960 Stoke Mandeville Games was actually the ninth
occasion of the games ̄\_(“⁄)_/ ̄
The Stoke Mandeville Games were first organised as an opportunity for injured World War I and II
veterans to participate in an exhibition-like competition, with 16 men and women in wheelchairs
competing in archery.
In 1960, 23 nations took part in Rome, sending 400 athletes — all in wheelchairs — to compete in
eight sports: athletics, wheelchair basketball, swimming, table tennis, archery, snooker, dartchery (a
combination of darts and archery) and wheelchair fencing.
Fast forward to today and 4,403 athletes representing 162 nations competed in the Tokyo Games across
22 sports – some of which were held for the first time (Badminton and Taekwondo) and some that are
completely unique to the Paralympics, including Boccia, Goalball, and – my favorite –Murderball.
Before my accident (and even early on afterwards) I never paid any attention to the Paralympics. In fact,
I’d probably say I never really took it seriously. But now I can fully appreciate what it stands for. Let’s call
it growth and maturity.
When you look at it simplistically, Paralympians are athletes. Just like their Olympic counterparts,
they train hard, dedicate time and energy into the (sometimes) selfish pursuit of always striving to be
better, to do better. Unlike their able bodied peers, they do so often without a lot of financial backing or
lucrative sponsorship deals – but by fitting in hours and hours of training and competition with whatever
employment they can find.
Just like everyone can’t become Olympians, not everyone with a disability can be a Paralympian. Trust me
when I say these athletes are ELITE at what they do! And I think this year’s Paralympics are a testament to how professional these athletes are.
The standard of competition in 2020 was absolutely elite, and if I’m being honest I think is a reflection on
society’s progression at not only accepting the disability community, but championing us.
I’m no fool to think that in a month’s time we will see the same amount of coverage on our incredible
Paralympians (more on my thoughts surrounding the coverage in our next blog...). But overall I’ve got to
say it feels me with joy and hope that we’re on the right path.
Nothing like a little bit of Paralympic magic to get you misty eyed and optimistic hey!
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