I was unsuccessful in my sustained attempts to get tickets for the Olympic Games of London 2012. I finally “settled for second best”, and got tickets to the Paralympic Games some three months ahead of them, and long before there was any indication of the excitement which they would bring. I had made the mistake of assuming that the Olympic Games would somehow be better than the Paralympic Games – big mistake! How wrong I was…
The Paralympic Games were not only spectacularly successful from a competitive perspective; looking beyond the competition results themselves, they gave us so much more.
It’s okay to talk about disability
It’s not a taboo subject. By not talking about disability, we create an aura of misinformation and mystery. We leave issues unresolved and create an attitude of “them and us” – mentally creating groups of “those who can and those who can’t”. The more we ask about, the more we talk about, the more informed we become. And by doing that, we become more involved in, and aware of the issues.
We make our own barriers
In our daily lives it’s too easy to create barriers which stop us from achieving more. Real champions don’t do that – they actively seek ways of overcoming barriers. Rather than looking at what they can’t do, they look at what they can do – an altogether more positive and effective approach. But this can only follow when we have sufficient belief in ourselves, the will to do it, and the determination and hunger to follow through.
We’re all capable of extraordinary things
Watching a man born with no arms competing at the highest levels in archery; watching a 1-legged man clear the world record height of 1.92m; watching blind footballers scoring goals against sighted goalkeepers; watching men and women playing basketball or tennis in wheelchairs. These examples show how extraordinary we can be, when we’re motivated enough.
Some disabilities are more immediately obvious than others
It follows that some abilities, are more obvious than others. Some spectators said they were mystified as to why particular athletes were competing, as “they didn’t have any obvious impairment”. It strikes me as a strange way of thinking. We don’t look at Olympic champions and think “She doesn’t look likely to be good at long-jump”, or at a maths professor and think “He doesn’t look very clever”. Ability is not always obvious. When something isn’t obvious, our minds play tricks on us and the result is guesswork and assumption.
We make assumptions which aren’t always correct
Learned behaviour tells us that very tall people are likely to be better at basketball than very short people. Experience suggests that people with missing limbs are not likely to be great swimmers. These assumptions are not only wrong, they are also incredibly damaging. By making such sweeping assumptions, we are unwittingly imposing barriers and lowering our expectations. If we are doing this with disability, then imagine how often we are doing it with much less obvious, more subtle issues.
These lessons apply to both our private and business lives – talking overcomes prejudice; the biggest barriers are in our minds; we can do amazing things; looks can be deceptive; assumptions can be wrong. Nothing new here, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded about them from time to time.
I feel so incredibly lucky. Had I managed to get tickets to the Olympic Games, I would not have gone to the Paralympic Games. I might have watched some of it on the television, but I certainly wouldn’t have learned and experienced what I did. I would have accidentally subjected myself to second best. This is not to take anything away from the incredible achievements of the Olympians – they demonstrated incredible sporting achievement; the Paralympians taught me altogether more.