With a variety of Paralympic events scheduled for this year, discus champion Josie Pearson talks about the welcome limelight disability sport has received since London 2012.
I began my Paralympic bid in 2006 playing wheelchair rugby; I trained hard and was selected to represent the GB team at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. It was a dream come true. The support I received from the public was fantastic; although many may not have known much about wheelchair rugby or disability sport beforehand, people were very inquisitive to find out more.
After Beijing the run up to London really kicked in, with the support and following for Paralympic sport increasing tenfold. Leading brands helped raise the Paralympics’ profile, with Sainsbury’s becoming the sole sponsor and Channel 4 the event’s critically-acclaimed official broadcaster. During this time I’d switched to athletics as I felt my niche was in individual sport. It was a risk but later panned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
By the time London 2012 came around, we were all rightly portrayed as elite athletes, rather than disabled people ‘having a go’ at sport. ParalympicsGB and UK Sport had done an amazing job at educating the public by growing their understanding and support to change perceptions.
I’ve had so many people say to me that they find the Paralympians to be even more inspiring than Olympians, many have personal stories to tell on how they overcame adversity before becoming elite athletes. It’s put Paralympians firmly on the map as household names.
There was a lot of talk about the legacy that London would leave and whether expectations could be met, in my opinion both been excelled. Paralympic sport has seen an increase in the number of people getting involved, whether it’s a child trying something for the first time or as a volunteer. ParalympicsGB is now holding Sport Fest days where people can try a variety of sports and meet some of their Paralympic idols (the next event is on 26 and 27 April in Sheffield). Initiatives like these give everyone the chance to become elite athletes and, if they want, to strive for the pinnacle of their chosen sport: a Paralympic Games.
Sainsbury’s is also keeping the momentum with its Series, which includes a day of its Anniversary Games in the Olympic Stadium dedicated to Paralympic sport. The company’s continued enthusiasm for the movement can only help with the rest of the country following suit. I for one can’t wait for the chance to compete again on the same field I won my Gold medal in last year, and I really hope the crowds return to see the ‘super humans’ in action again.