Tag Archives: Olympics

Why I’m trying every Paralympic and Olympic sport

This year, to raise funds for his charity Power2Inspire, John Willis embarked on the Road2Rio challenge. John was born without hands and without feet, but he hasn’t let that stop him from trying out every Olympic and Paralympic sport in the run up to Rio. We caught up with him in Cambridge as he tested out some newly designed paddles for his kayaking challenge, and this is what he said:

I was born without hands and without feet. The good news is that I’ve never suffered any pain or anything like that. But the difficult part is that the world is set up for people with hands and with feet. But, with some ingenuity, some design – my car is adapted – that sort of thing, I can actually do most things.

John, a disabled man with foreshortened arms holds an adapted tennis racket and smiles.
John demonstrating his new Tennis racket.

When I was growing up it was a much less enlightened period back in the 1960s. I was not able to participate in sport with my contemporaries, my peers. I was put in the corner. Just “there, there John – you go over there and don’t join in.” Now people are prepared to allow me to join in. So I wanted to stop that happening today and encourage everybody to be included. And surprise, surprise, wherever we’ve taken it, people have loved the idea!

Inclusive sport

Power2Inspire is a charity that helps disabled and non-disabled people do sport together. We’re passionate about doing sport – everybody doing sport. So it’s not just about disability and non-disability. It’s about everybody doing sport.

John, a disabled man with forshortened arms and legs poses for the camera on a horse.
John ready for his horseriding challenge.

The biggest challenge to inclusive sport is mental attitude. It’s thinking that people can’t be involved. It’s not thinking outside of the box; not adapting sports; not making games accessible. We use inclusive and adaptive sports in schools to show that that isn’t the case.

So this year, to raise funds for Power2Inspire, I’ve embarked on the Road2Rio challenge, which is to do all the Olympic and Paralympic sports before the end of Rio 2016. We calculated that at 34 sports, and so far I’ve done about 27 of them, which leaves me just 7 to go. They’re very varied. Some are exciting. Some are scary. And some are technologically challenging.

The scariest challenge so far has to be between diving off a three metre high spring board and riding up on a 14 hand horse, without hands and feet.

John Willis, a disabled man with foreshortened arms and legs, waits on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool, in front of an audience of adults and children.
John waiting on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool.

Diving really taught me that it’s not only just about one’s physical limitations, I was actually mentally scared. And that had nothing to do with my disability. And that was really, really interesting.

The Paralympics

The Paralympics is inspiring. It’s exciting. I think the wheelchair basketball is way more exciting that ordinary basketball because it’s a real effort to score a basket. Wheelchair rugby is completely and utterly mad. And the track wheelchair racing is so strategic and skillful, it has to be watched.

The London Paralympics made a huge difference to the whole attitude to disability. In particular it showed people could do things rather than that they couldn’t. It showed people are superhumans. Absolutely amazing! But we’ve still got to go much further at the grassroots level. That’s what I believe. We’ve got to get a lot more disabled people who can do limited amounts, to actually realise that they too can join in with the fun of sport.

In terms of my favourite Paralympic sport to watch, I think I’m torn between the wheelchair rugby and some of the swimming events. I love the relay swimming where you have different abilities swimming against each other. So actually, they have to swim against themselves, as much as they have to swim against each other. The relay is superb.

John, a disabled man with foreshortened arms and legs, raises his newly adapted paddle on the River Cam.
A delighted John raises his newly adapted paddle, after successfully Kayaking on the River Cam.

I think peoples’ attitudes are different between the Olympics and Paralympics. People can relate, I suppose a bit more to the Olympians in the first instance, until they realise quite how far they’re throwing, jumping, or whatever. Then they can be inspired by the Paralympians, and see that actually it is worth getting out of bed in the morning.

Can’t wait for the Paralympics to start? Read all our Paralympic blogs.

Lifting the clouds of limitation: Emily’s story

Guest post from Emily Yates, a 22-year-old travel writer and presenter. Emily has Cerebral Palsy and is currently working on an accessible travel guide for the Olympic Games in Rio.

EmilyMy first experience of feeling truly unlimited, regardless of my disability, was during an expedition to southern Africa with the Journey of a Lifetime Trust (JoLt) at the age of 16.

Twenty-three other young people and myself rode elephants, climbed sand dunes and cage-dived with sharks – three things I definitely never thought I’d do, especially not with such ease and encouragement! The only way to describe it is that I felt free; there was no cotton wool, shocked faces or red tape to hold me back.

Quite naturally, from that point on I was addicted to travel, and obsessed by the thought of getting to as many places as I could, fighting against stereotypes and exceeding expectations each and every time. But I also wanted to do more than that; I wanted to place a positive, ‘can do’ image of the disabled community out there for all, both able and lesser able, to see.

My hope was that this would then clear the way for others who were considered, or considered themselves to be, disabled, to jump on the travel bandwagon and enjoy the ride.

Emily with Seb Coe
Emily with Seb Coe

I lived in the Sinai Desert with a Bedouin tribe, learned to scuba dive in the Red Sea, studied at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and took part in a scholarship trip to Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. But it was after an amazing two weeks of volunteering as a Games Maker at the London 2012 Paralympic Games that I was mentioned by Lord Sebastian Coe as somebody who had ‘lifted the clouds of limitation’ for those with disabilities.

It was then that I knew I must push myself further, and attempt to really make a difference in the world of adapted and accessible travel. I had enjoyed the positivity and the electric atmosphere of the Games so much, and was desperate to be involved in the next ones in Rio de Janeiro. It is an honour to say that I am now working in association with Rough Guides in order to write, publish and distribute an Accessible Travel Guide to Rio 2016, in order to provide information, guidance and encouragement to those who once considered themselves to be limited, and thought that travel wasn’t for them.

After lots of planning and networking, I traveled to Rio for the first time in November 2013, and was kindly hosted by the British Consulate. The city itself is an incredibly vibrant and exciting place and, although there are improvements to be made in terms of accessibility, projects of progression are already underway. I have never felt so welcome in a foreign environment before, and I cannot wait to see what is in store for 2016. I can guarantee that those who visit will really know how to celebrate after some time in Brazilian company!

I can’t deny that travel can be stressful, exhausting, and a ridiculous amount of hard work, especially if you are travelling with that ‘extra baggage’ of a condition that requires careful forward planning and a few special measures to be put in place. It is challenging, but it is not impossible. With accepting the possibility and opportunity of travel, you also immediately accept to experience some of the most exciting, fulfilling and life-affirming moments you will ever have. And hey, why should any of that ‘extra baggage’ that you might carry exclude you from grabbing a hold of that?!

You can follow Emily on Twitter and find out more about her work and adventures on her website.

My Olympic Torch experience

Guest post from Anne Barnes, Face 2 Face Birmingham

Anne Barnes representing Face 2 Face Birmingham

My bearing experience with the Olympic torch on 30 June has to be one of the most memorable days of my life, mainly due to it being totally surreal and bizarre!

I was honoured to have been nominated to carry the torch, for the voluntary work I do for Face 2 Face in Birmingham. It was great to see a troop of loyal befrienders there on the day with banners and flags, supporting and encouraging me.

On our leg of the relay, Smethwick to Cannon Hill Park (Via Birmingham City Centre) we were surprised to find that we had Sir Cliff Richard joining us! He was great, really friendly and generous with his time.

The actual run/walk of 490 yards seemed to fly past and was over too soon. I felt immensely proud and very emotional, it really is a “once in a lifetime” experience and I felt very lucky to have been picked to do this.


My Moment to Shine by Jhon Bateman

Guest post from Jhon Bateman

Jhon, Olympic torch bearer

On Tuesday 3 July, in Loughborough, I carried the London 2012 Olympic Torch for 440 metres as part of its 70day relay across Great Britain before arriving at the Olympic Stadium on  27 July. I was runner 34 of the day, which meant that I was quite early on in the day – I had to be at the Collection Point for 8:00 ready to carry the torch at 10:42! The experience was amazing but over so quickly – the road was packed with people watching me go past, cheering me on and taking lots of photos. I loved it – I felt like a celebrity! I saw people I haven’t seen in years who had turned out to see me and young schoolchildren from the surrounding area all out ready to cheer me on.

After my leg of the relay, I got on to shuttle bus 2 at the back of the second convoy with all of the torchbearers who had already carried the torch. We were all so excited! Our bus was full of torchbearers waiting their turn but I was only the third on the bus, so I had a long wait afterwards. After travelling through three more towns after finishing Loughborough, we headed back to Loughborough University where our torches were decommissioned (this is where the gas canister is taken out) and given back to us.

I was quite a lucky torchbearer, as I was selected through the Coca-Cola selection campaign called Future Flames. Coca-Cola is one of the 3 presenting partners of the London 2012 Olympic Torchbearers alongside Samsung and Lloyds TSB/RBS. Future Flames are “exceptional young people who have been nominated by their communities”. As a Coca-Cola Future Flame, the Olympic Torch was purchased for you, you were given 2 VIP tickets to one of the Coca-Cola Special City Celebration events and photos are purchased for you!

Overall, I have really enjoyed the whole experience of being a London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer and will remember my Moment to Shine forever.


Olympic torch stars from Beaumont College

Jessica smiles broadly as her Olympic torch is lit, the flame bright against the grey sky. Despite heavy rain and flood warnings, thousands have lined the seafront in Morecambe to support Jess and her fellow torch bearers.

“It’s a moment she will remember forever,” says Jess’s mum, Louise. “I couldn’t be prouder,” she wipes away a tear and gives her 19-year-old daughter the thumbs up sign. Jess throws her head back and laughs – too excited to care about the rain which falls relentlessly, soaking everyone.

Jess is one of five disabled students from Scope’s Beaumont College – an educational service rated outstanding by Ofsted – who took part in the Olympic torch relay across Lancashire on 22 and 23 June. All were nominated for their commitment to giving disabled people a voice, their work spans everyday matters like more choice in the college restaurant to campaigning on national issues including cuts to legal aid.

“Since I’ve been at Beaumont, I’ve learned to be independent,” says student Tom Green, 21. “I like helping people get involved. I give talks in schools about being disabled and I do a lot of fundraising. When I was told I was a torch bearer, I just thought ‘wow!'”

Taking the torch from Morecambe to Preston

Tom is taking part in the relay in Preston. As he waits to take the torch from his friend and fellow student, Dan Crowe, 20, both families look on nervously. “This is such an exciting event,” says Tom’s dad, Peter. “We are exceptionally proud.” Moments later, Tom’s torch is lit and fitted to his wheelchair to loud cheers. “How are you feeling?” shouts a voice from the crowd. “Happy days!” responds Tom.

Vicki with a statue of Eric Morecambe.It wasn’t just Beaumont College students who took part in the Olympic relay. Vikki Brier, 53, a learning support worker at the college, was also a torch bearer. “It’s such a buzz that we’ve all been chosen,” says Vikki who is a tireless fundraiser for Scope and local charities. “To me, Beaumont College is all about creating opportunities. Taking part in the Olympic relay is, quite literally, an opportunity of a lifetime. We are making history!”

Vikki’s torch relay included a pit stop at the statue of Eric Morecambe, the comedian who changed his last name as a mark of respect to his home town. As she balances on the top of the memorial Vikki holds the flame aloft, so it appears Eric is holding the torch. “I think it’s going to be a couple of weeks before I come down from my cloud,” she jokes.

Unlike most torch bearers, who have a well-earned rest after their moment in the spotlight, Vikki, and Tom are now touring local mainstream schools with their torches (which cost £215 to buy!) to talk about the relay. “It’s also a great confidence boost for the young people. They were chosen as torch bearers for their achievements, not because of their disabilities. We are so proud of each other.”

Find out more about Beaumont College.