There is now just under one week to go until fireworks set the Rio 2016 Paralympic stadiums alight, declaring the Paralympic Games open. Indeed, as I write, ParalympicsGB are aboard their plane, preparing to land in Rio. This is it! The work is complete and all the athletes can do is stay well and mentally prepare for the biggest competition of their lives.

 

In this post, I’d like to explore two important questions: What do the Paralympic Games mean to us, as a society, in 2016? How does one become a Paralympian? 

What do the Paralympic Games mean to us?

The Paralympic Games are a very different entity to what they were, even just twelve years ago. When I went to Athens 2004, very few people knew what it was to be a Paralympian. To me it was everything, but to the public, it wasn’t that a big deal. Now, though, the world of sport sees us very differently.

 

For Rio, there will be over 500 hours of coverage on British TV and, if you want more, every second of Paralympic sport will be streamed live on the internet. Some will say this is not enough. But, looking back, 500 hours of coverage is something we never dreamt would come true!

 

During the Olympic Games, I saw someone complaining because the sport was taking over the news. Unfortunately, we live in a time where, if you allow it, every single newscast you watch, will make you sad. Every four years we have an opportunity to embrace sport and allow it to inject positivity into our lives. The Paralympic Games does just that, but at a more potent level (in a good way).

 

The Paralympics not only brings the world together as one, but it brings all abilities together, too. It shows that having an impairment isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t close all doors. It shows, even to non-disabled people, that dedication yields results.

How did I become a Paralympian?

Over the years I have come to realise that, although the Paralympics are becoming more parallel to the Olympics, society still doesn’t quite grasp what it takes to become a Paralympian. It is tough going.

 

I could start talking about all the physical training it took to win six Paralympic medals. But, interestingly, I don’t think it is all about how many lengths of the pool you do, or how many hours in the gym you clock up. A lot of it is down to mindset!

 

I was speaking to my mum, over the weekend, about what I did before I learnt to walk at about five. I couldn’t crawl before I could walk. So, effectively, that could have been five years of not moving unless I was moved by someone else. It was not though! Instead, to get around the house, I lay on my back and shuffled backwards (even around corners). Maybe that is why I was a backstroker!

 

So, what’s my point? My point is that every Paralympian in Rio will have had limitations set upon them. All of which will have been ignored or conquered by finding a way around them. My point is that I wasn’t just handed the twenty-three international medals I have. My parents started my journey by encouraging me to be positive, encouraging me to see limits as challenges. I then took over and set my mind to winning every medal I could: I ignored every one of the obstacles in my way and found a way to succeed.

 

That’s how I became a Paralympian.

By Fran Williamson, six-time Paralympic swimming medallist and five-time World Champion. Fran is also our Vice President and a committed supporter of United Response

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