Gerd_SchnfelderBecoming the first German to be honoured with the Juan Antonio Samaranch IOC Disabled Athlete Award was a wonderful surprise.

I am delighted and, if I'm honest, really proud of what I have achieved over the years. But even more than that, I am thrilled to be part of the momentum the Paralympic Movement has been gathering in Germany recently.

When I look back at my six Paralympic Winter Games, I realise things have changed tremendously.

While Albertville 1992 was like a family event with little media coverage, Vancouver 2010 was a highly professional sports celebration that attracted enormous media attention.

Paralympic sport has continually developed, professionalised and earned real prominence in the sports world. The change is easily recognisable when it comes to the growth in sponsorship programmes and the promotion of Paralympic sport in Germany.

Nowadays, there is a top-team sponsorship programme, professional coaches, world-class facilities – the list goes on.

Generally, I would say that Paralympic sport enjoys much higher media and public attention than ever before and Paralympic athletes are celebrated as sports stars.

Most significantly, the Paralympic Games today is an independent event of genuine importance for host cities. Part of the reason is that it offers huge potential for promoting a positive image of a region and an entire country.

But the crucial factor is the chance the Paralympic Games represents for integration and the creation of equal opportunities for people with a disability.

Media coverage of Paralympic sport has increased exponentially. In days gone by, only specialist programmes broadcasted news about it.

Now, it is part of the high-profile sports programmes on TV. That generates greater publicity and enthusiasm for the Paralympic Movement and the incredible performances of its athletes.

By showing the heights people with a disability are able to reach, Paralympic athletes contribute to raising awareness for issues like barrier-freedom, sport for all and the importance of an integrated society.

In times of demographic change it is highly important to familiarise people with these issues.

Anyone could be affected by them at any time and, after all, everyone is going to be old one day!

Experiencing the Paralympic Games first hand, you get a real buzz from the enthusiasm and sense of unity and in the end it makes you rethink your attitudes towards the more vulnerable people in society.

Thanks to sports events like the Paralympic Games, the Paralympic Movement can effect real and lasting positive social change.

The changing status of Paralympic sport becomes obvious when listening to feedback from volunteers who have worked at the Paralympic Games - their judgment is incredibly positive.

The perception is that the Paralympic Games do so much to further ideals like friendship, fair play and passion for sport.

The Paralympic Movement in Germany has risen to such prominence in recent years that a Paralympic Winter Games would have an invigorating effect worldwide.

The enthusiasm for Paralympic sport and its athletes is unique here in Germany.

I would love to experience a true Olympic atmosphere in my home country.

That's why I support the Munich bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games 2018.

Gerd Schönfelder is one of the greatest Winter Paralympians of all time with 22 Paralympic Winter Games medals, 12 World Championships and eight World Cups to his name. He is also a sports ambassador for Munich 2018 and the first German ever to receive the Juan Antonio Samaranch IOC Disabled Athlete Award.