Paralympic Reflections

A volunteer Gamesmaker at Earls Court

This summer, I was lucky enough to take part in “The Greatest Show on Earth” not once but twice.  During the summer games, I worked as a volunteer Gamesmaker at Earls Court, helping in the Olympic Volleyball competitions, and later in the year, I was fortunate enough to be appointed by the WOVD (World Organisation of Volleyball for the Disabled) to act as a line judge in the Sitting Volleyball competition at the Paralympics.

The summer games were a great experience.  The atmosphere at the Volleyball matches was phenomenal, with a great deal of support for the different nations competing.  It highlighted just how cosmopolitan a city London has become.  It also made clear how much hard work had gone into organising the Games, and the great level of teamwork needed for the games to succeed.  There were a number of teams working together, Sport Specific, (such as Sports Equipment, Field of Play and my area of work, Technical Officials), and Venue Specific (Ticketing, Catering, Cleaning etc.).  It was amazing to see the hard work of all concerned rewarded with a competition of the highest standard enjoyed by thousands of spectators.

The Paralympics were an altogether different experience.  The tone was set at the Opening Ceremony, which, starring professor Steven Hawking, celebrated the achievements of disabled people around the world, and stressed that what is important is what  people can achieve, not what they can’t. Unlike the summer games, during the Paralympics, officials such as myself were housed in the Athletes’ Village.  This was a truly amazing and humbling experience.  The atmosphere in the village was electric and vibrant, with athletes form all countries and with different disabilities mixing freely together.  The village itself catered for all their needs.  The accommodation was purpose built with wheelchair users and visually impaired athletes in mind.  There was a state of the art gym, leisure facilities, a multi-faith centre and even a workshop for the repair of prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs. Keeping everyone fed was a huge, free Dining Hall, open 24 hours a day, and featuring food from around the world.  It even had a McDonalds.  It was not unusual to see athletes celebrating a victory by ordering a Big Mac and fries!

Being located at the Athletes’ Village meant that I was able to go and see a variety of sports, including a world record lift in the Powerlifting, and the organised, chaotic mad violence that is Wheelchair Rugby.  The actual Sitting Volleyball competition was, as expected, of the very highest standard, with matches played at a fast and furious pace, and balls hit very fast and hard. This made the whole competition a challenge to officiate, a challenge to which the officials rose magmificently.

My personal highlight was to be appointed as a line judge for the Men’s Bronze medal match – a match which turned out to be the best in the tournament, with Germany finally beating the Russian Federation 16 – 14 in the fifth set of a very tight match.

Taking part in the Paralympics proved to be a truly wonderful and memorable experience.  Being among world-class athletes, as highly trained and hard working as their able-bodied counterparts, and just as determined, if not more so, to win, showed the true strength of the human spirit.  The athletes showed a real sense of humour and enjoyment of achievement, truly concentrating on what was achievable, not what could not be done.  Their enjoyment and sense of humour left its mark on everyone involved, and being a part of this inspirational event will be something I shall remember for the rest of my life.  The spirit of the Paralympic Games can be best be summed up in two quotes:

“Everyone has the right to play sport, be their best and let their talent shine”

(Charles, aged 11, on the Paralympic Wall)

“Disability is not a limit.  The only handicap is the thinking of others”

(Venezuelan cyclist Victor Garrido, who lost his left leg in a motorbike accident)

Men's Bronze Medal line JudgesUSA v China