Saturday, 1 September 2012

Paralympics: Records fall

Last night I attended the paralympic swimming session in the London 2012 Aquatics Centre, where seven world records were broken in 15 finals. It was pretty astonishing! And it was also almost overwhelmingly inspirational. Just being in a place like this has a way of whittling away at a lifetime of social attitudes toward disability.

There's something seriously stirring about watching someone like the USA's Jessica Long (above) walk out to the start of her race, remove her legs, then dive in the pool and crush her own world record to win a gold medal. She emerged from the pool afterwards with a huge grin on her face, dancing to the music filling the arena. And when she stood on the platform to receive her gold medal, the emotions washing over her were felt throughout the crowd.

The audience cheered on everyone rapturously, bumping up the deafening roar whenever someone from Paralympics GB was competing. Britain didn't win any golds last night, but there were plenty of silvers and bronzes, including brothers Oliver and Sam Hynd, who won silver and bronze in the men's 400m freestyle.

I also spent some time in the mix-zone with the competitors after their races. One of the most inspiring to speak with was Bradley Snyder (right) of the USA, who won gold in the men's 100m freestyle. The 28-year-old was on a tour of duty in Afghanistan less than a year ago when a home-made bomb went off, blinding him. Right after winning the race, he talked about the honour he felt being here representing wounded military personnel. "The motto here is 'inspire a generation', and I suppose my generation is the wounded warriors," he said. "It wasn't that long ago I was laying in the hospital bed. I know it's a tough blow to have something removed from you, and also to be taken out of the fight. Hopefully my presence here can provide some inspiration to those guys so they can get out. It doesn't have to be sport, but just get out of bed, get back into life and get through the barriers that have been presented to them." More than 20 of the US team's 227 athletes here in London are wounded war veterans.

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