Four events in three days with 2 four and a half year olds. Insane? Definitely.
We were all feeling quite droopy when the alarm went off on Sunday morning. The girls were perky enough but, on severely reduced sleep, we wondered how long that would last. We needed to get to the Olympic Park slightly early as I had tickets to give to my Mum and sister, but in typical Aunty J style she was running late so I sent Dh and girls through security while I waited for the others.
The Aquatics Centre had become a home from home for me during the Olympics as I had picked up last-minute tickets for swimming and diving events in really decent seats. I had looked up at the upper tiers from my press seats (really) and wondered what the view was like from way up there. On Sunday I found out. We weren’t right at the back but there were an awful lot of stairs to climb before we reached our seats. Every time the girls announced that they needed the toilet we groaned inwardly as they were about a zillion steps away.
Like the Velodrome, the Aquatics Centre is really warm and it was packed, so we were all a bit red-faced by the end of the morning session. I think it was the least interesting event for the girls, partly because they were tired and because there was very little for them to get a handle on, aside from the appearance of a Paralympics GB (“COME ON GREAT BRITAIN!!”) competitor every so often. The fact that we were so far away from the action may not have helped either.
The grown-ups enjoyed it though and it gave me a chance to reflect on the differences in the way that we appreciated the sport and the girls’ approach to para-sport. Beforehand, I had expected to field lots of questions from the girls with regards to the disabilities of the competitor. I had visions of them asking at the tops of their voices WHERE IS THAT MAN’S LEG? WHERE HAVE HIS ARMS GONE? WHY DOES HE WALK WITH A STICK? WHY IS SHE IN A WHEELCHAIR? but actually, I don’t think they asked anything like that all weekend.
We had explained the differences between the Olympics and Paralympics in the days leading up to the events. R and G were aware that the Paralympics were for athletes whose bodies didn’t work in quite the same way as those in the Olympics did. They knew that some people had been born that way and others had acquired their para-status through life events, accidents, wars, etc. They were, quite simply, unbothered by the whole notion of para-sport as distinct from any other. G was more interested in the colour of their outfits and the flag of their country and R was only bothered if someone from Paralympics GB won a gold medal.
I approach everything with a research mind (and basic sheer bloody nosiness) so I wanted to know why the person was a para-athlete and what had led to them competing in the 2012 Games. At the Equestrian the announcer explained each rider’s disability before they entered the arena (many of them acquired their disability through an accident whilst horse riding and I was amazed it hadn’t put them off horses for life.) I think Dh and I now have a pretty good understanding of the classification system (cat and class is bread and butter to me anyway) and the subtleties therein.
It’s hard not to talk about it in a way that doesn’t sound massively patronising but there were moments over the weekend where I watched a competitor do something completely amazing with their body (or what was left of it) with my mouth wide open in shock and awe. The human body – and mind – are extraordinarily adaptable. We watched men in wheelchairs wheeled out by their trainers to the side of the swimming pool, lifted gently into the water by two helpers to compete with a variety of legs and arms (and often both) missing. The athletes in the 150 metre medley weren’t able to do Lochte-style turns (or the back bending butterfly stroke) so they simply stopped swimming at each end, gently manoeuvred their bodies around in the water and set off again.
It sounds like a cliché (and it is) but 95% time I was watching sport, not para-sport. It was only when the cyclists got off their bikes, for example, I realised that they weren’t moving around quite as easily as Chris Hoy or Laura Trott after a race. I can’t even ride a bloody bike!
God, I loved the cycling. I did. I joked with a friend that they should take a leaf out of the divers’ handbook and just wear speedos when they compete but I guess they wouldn’t be quite as aerodynamic then. Also, if they were topless (I have put some thought into this) they would have to shave their chests and I get the impression that a lot of the cyclists are hairy, manly men and I wouldn’t want them to lose that.
I’m digressing hugely here. The main thing to take away from this is that we took the girls to the Paralympics and we survived. More importantly, so did they. Also, I now like cyclists more than divers.