The Big Read (Paralympics)

Liz Johnson: Moving to Bath forced me out of my comfort zone

When you’re a full-time athlete, you obviously have to get used to training occupying a lot of your time. It’s particularly nice when you see that training pay off and, when I broke my own world record a few weeks ago, this was certainly the case.

I train six days a week - on most days this involves four hours in the pool (an early morning session and an afternoon session). On three days I also build in a one hour session in the gym. As a Paralympic swimmer, it’s important to monitor the effects that training has on my body but I’ve always found that swimming has been more of a help with my cerebral palsy. 

When I was younger, and receiving treatment through a children’s centre, they commented that the swimming seemed to benefit my condition and so my mum actively encouraged me to swim more.  I’m always swimming now so it’s easy to underestimate the benefits that it has for me. Occasionally intense training can make it more difficult for me out of the pool but my coach and I can keep an eye on that and adjust what we do accordingly.

I train at the University of Bath, as part of Team Bath. My coach had never worked with anyone with my condition before and that’s actually helped my progress. Sometimes he’ll ask me to try something that might push me out of my comfort zone but that’s what is really helping my development. We’re currently working on changing my stroke and the training can be slightly trial and error but that makes it very rewarding.

Forcing myself to move out of my comfort zone was the main reason behind my move to Bath from my original training base in Swansea. I studied and trained at Swansea for years but, once I had finished my degree, a lot of my friends moved away. Then I won the gold medal at the Paralympics in Beijing 2008, under very difficult circumstances both personally and physically, and afterward it seemed like one chapter of my life was over and I needed to start another one. It was hard to leave Swansea but being at Bath has helped me gain a fresh impetus and open myself up to new challenges.

I’m always looking ahead to London 2012 and the way to make sure I compete, and medal, at the Paralympics will be to stay motivated throughout the whole build-up. Being at Bath really helps with this - I’m surrounded by top athletes, from rugby players to modern pentathletes. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and if someone is having a tough day at training the other athletes will help push them through. This training environment breeds a much better interaction between athletes from different sports and we can all use that to our benefit.

In terms of my preparation ahead of London 2012, there are a number of competitions that I’ll be focusing on. The IPC World Swimming Championships in Eindhoven this year and the IPC European Swimming Championships in Berlin in 2011 will be key events for me. 

However, my next competition will be the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester. The competition is the only annual, international, multi-sport disability event in the world and is therefore an excellent chance for me to pit myself against athletes that I rarely get the chance to race. We hardly ever get to race against the Americans as it costs so much to travel to the US to compete, so getting that international race experience is really important.  It’s not just swimming that benefits as the event runs for seven days and also includes track and field athletics, wheelchair basketball and seven-a-side football.

This year will also be the first year I have competed at the BT Paralympic World Cup since becoming a BT Ambassador. It makes a difference when you feel that a company like BT is willing to support you and work with you because they have faith in your ability. 

It’s also great to see BT supporting sport and being one of their Ambassadors has really benefitted me on a personal level as I’m able to share my experiences to help inspire BT customers and employees. On a practical level they have also made my life much easier by setting me up with mobile broadband, which really helps me stay in touch with family and friends when I’m away competing and stuck in a hotel!

I think anybody in an Olympic or Paralympic sport has one eye on London 2012, whether they admit it or not!  It’d be amazing to walk out in front of a home crowd knowing that they are really cheering for me, rather than walking out in front of a crowd and having to pretend that the cheering is for me!  It won’t just be people that compete at London 2012 that get something out of it, it’s an event that the whole nation will be able to share in. 

In terms of competing at the Paralympics, I feel like I’m on course, although you can’t take anything for granted. People discuss how the attention around London 2012 is putting pressure on athletes to perform. As far as I’m concerned, no one could put more pressure on me than myself!

Liz Johnson is a BT Ambassador.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup.  For more information visit

Rachael Latham: Why I am looking forward to the 2010 BT Paralympic World Cup for a different reason

I am Rachael Latham and I have been training as a swimmer for over ten years at Horwich Swimming Club, Bolton Metro, North West Disability swim squad, the High Performance Centre in Manchester and, for a short time, at the City of Sheffield swim squad.

I have a birth injury to my left arm and swim using my right arm only, which lead me into disability swimming. I first competed at a national level in 2001 and made the British Swimming World Class Programme in 2004.

I am the 50 and 200 metres butterfly European record holder as well as the British 200m backstroke record holder and I was the Nationwide Junior Sports Award winner from 2002-2004. My most notable experience though, was becoming a double finalist at the 2008 Beijing Games, which was a thrilling experience. I finished fifth the 100m backstroke and seventh in the100m butterfly.

I believe competing at the BT Paralympic World Cup prior to the Games, where I won silver medal in the 100m butterfly in 2007, gave me quality racing experience for Beijing. I actually have two medals from the BT Paralympic World Cup though because as well as the silver I won in 2007, I won the bronze at the event in the 100m backstroke last year

I have been a part of the Daily Mail’s ‘Magnificent 7’ series, which, in association with the National Lottery, is following seven athletes through to 2012. I was previously identified in 2005 by the publication as a possible Paralympic medallist. 
I am currently studying sports development with coaching honours degree at Sheffield Hallam University. Since a young age my swimming has always been the most important thing in my life, however my education has now caught up with me and I have been trying to juggle my commitments in and out of the water. 

I have recently taken a break from training for international events due to my hectic schedule at University clashing with important exams and assignments. This is resulting in my absence from the BT Paralympic World Cup for the first time since 2006.

However due to my work placement with the University, I have the exciting opportunity to work with the BT Paralympic World Cup office to help organise the annual event, as an alternative to competing in the competition. I will be working on the media team for the event, so please look out for me when interviewing the competitors in athletics, swimming, wheelchair basketball and football seven-a-side.

Being a swimmer myself, I am looking forward to watching my fellow team members compete to hopefully win the overall team trophy for Great Britain. This will include my individual event which for an unusual change, I will be able to see my own competitor’s race from a whole new perspective in the media centre.

As well as the exciting arena of the Aquatics Centre, I am very much looking forward to meeting the famous Oscar Pistorius. This is a man I have only heard of but never formally met. I am a big supporter of Oscar in what he has achieved in athletics and it will be a good experience for me to interview stars like him.

It is true to say, I am also looking forward to being involved in sports that I do not know as much about, for example; the wheelchair basketball, where I can learn a lot about the sport and the athletes within it.

Rachael Latham is a Paralympic swimmer who will be working as part of media team at the 2010 BT Paralympic World Cup. She will be writing a series of blogs for insideworldparasport in the lead up to the event which will be staged in Manchester from May 25-31, with more than 400 competitors from over 31 countries scheduled to compete. Tickets for the BT Paralympic World Cup are now on sale. For more details click here.

Sir Philip Craven: Vancouver was fantastic, now roll on London 2012

Our Paralympians did it. And though the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games are now over, and the athletes have returned to their respective homes around the world, I know that the success and impact remain fantastically high for the Paralympic Movement.

What a magnificent ten days of events and competitions. We had a record amount of coverage around the world that expanded our audience exponentially - the largest in Paralympic Winter Games history with the number of broadcast hours. We had online live and video on demand broadcasting with our official internet channel ParalympicSportTV, giving anyone with a computer a front row seat to the action.

And I know that the high definition video also had a big effect on how people watched the Games. Every detail was seen on the snow and ice in Vancouver and Whistler, and every performance was celebrated.

Vancouver also had an increase in all the main participation numbers from the previous Winter Games in Torino. A total of 502 athletes (381 males and 121 females) from 44 countries were competing, compared to the 474 athletes from 39 countries in 2006. We also welcomed four new countries to the Winter Games this year: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Serbia. We hope to see even more at the next Winter Games in Sochi.

During the Games the Vancouver 2010 Organising Committee was exceptional, and I can give the best example of why - the volunteers. The volunteers were informed, prepared and helpful to Paralympic fans who were there to watch the action. Also called "blue jackets" because of their uniforms, they made the Games a complete success.

In the competitions I saw, the athletes were strong, determined and fierce. They all were in for the best performances of their lives – and they had thousands of fans to cheer them on with every move. In fact, when I was at the UBC Thunderbird Arena in Vancouver to watch the ice sledge hockey games, there was not a quiet soul in the room.

The fans were excited and enthusiastic about every block, pass, play and point. They made the experience real for the athletes, as well as for the rest of us.

And this carried into the streets of Canada, as I saw photos taken of children playing ice sledge hockey in their neighbourhood streets on skateboards. They really got Paralympic sport. This is a perfect example of the undeniable impact that the Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games have had on the country and the people.

I truly saw the Paralympic Movement take a giant leap forward during and after the Vancouver Games. Now with the London 2012 Paralympic Games next on the calendar for the Paralympic Games, it will again be quite the show - there is no doubt about this.

What is already happening in Great Britain and London is a fantastic preview of what is to come. The educational programme, the advertising and the equal importance that is given to both the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will show the people of Britain the true spirit of sport.

It is exciting to see the Paralympic Games coming home to Britain, where our founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann began the Paralympic Movement.

Now in following Vancouver 2010, Paralympic sport moves forward with more determination, more courage, more inspiration and more equality. And the people of Britain will show the world in 2012 their Paralympic spirit, and once again inspire our athletes to give the best of themselves, which thus inspires the world.

The countdown to the London 2012 Paralympic Games now takes the official spotlight. I hope you too will be there for the experience.

Sir Philip Craven is the President of the International Paralympic Committee. He represented Britain in five consecutive Paralympic Games between 1972 and 1988, competing in athletics, basketball and swimming.

Edwina Kelly: Everyone feels part of the Paralympics

I’m currently on a bus from Vancouver to Whistler. I’m jet-lagged and tired, but ridiculously excited about the next few days ahead. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, but after attending the Opening Ceremony I can tell it’s going to be something special. I’m so proud to be here.

Earlier today, I was beginning to have my doubts about how big an event the Games would actually be. Vancouver seemed quiet and I had been informed by one local that I’d arrived two weeks late. Another told me that all the street entertainment during the Olympic Winter Games had gone.

It struck me that one thing London should try to do is to keep up the momentum in the city in the days after the London 2012 Olympic Games, to ensure that the London 2012 Paralympic Games has the same atmosphere and excitement. I was worried that Vancouver had finished celebrating and that the Paralympic Winter Games might seem like an afterthought.

However, the Opening Ceremony dispelled these doubts. BC Place was full to capacity, with around 60,000 spectators present to welcome the athletes and the start of the Games. I’d read earlier in the day that the organisers had sold a large proportion of discounted tickets to schools, and this was clear from the age of the audience.

This was a clever move. Not only does it engage children, from a young age, in disability sport, but it also ensured that the venue was full, which made for a more powerful atmosphere.

The theme of the evening was ‘one inspires the many’, and it truly was an inspirational night. The performers were amazing and the right balance was struck between celebrating athletic ability and acknowledging the challenges of disability.

The organisers ensured that the audience participated throughout, with pockets of the audience there as secret performers who, to everyone’s surprise, started a co-ordinated dance routine during one of the acts. One of the aims of the Paralympic Winter Games is inclusion and, by involving the spectators, there really was a feeling that everyone was a part of the event.

It is clear that the Paralympic Winter Games is not a secondary ticket. Whilst there may not have been superstar performers during the Paralympic version of the Opening Ceremony - and I am not into Michael Buble anyway -  the performances were unforgettable. After what I’ve seen tonight, I can’t wait for the Games to begin.

Edwina Kelly is a Senior Associate in Tax at Deloitte. She is in Vancouver as a VIP guest of the International Paralympic Committee, having won a competition which highlighted how proud she is of Deloitte Disability Sport

Duncan Mackay: Tribute to Terry Fox sums up what Paralympics are about

I am not normally a big fan of opening ceremonies at events like the Olympics as I believe they have become too pompous and bear little relation to what the events are supposed to be about.

But I would never miss another one if someone could guarantee to me that they will be as brilliantly entertaining as last night's Opening Ceremony for the Paralympics in Vancouver.

BC Place Stadium was transformed into a sea of flashing orange lights. Then a lone trumpeter. From there, the scene exploded. Living up to its theme of "one inspires many," the ceremony inspired many.

From the moment the ceremony started at 6pm., it had a human, warm touch. It was alternately frenzied, quirky, playful and deeply moving.

Governor General Michaelle Jean, the Queen's representative in Canada, set the tone as she walked on stage holding hands with two children on either side. Then the stage became a sea of dancing children in the form of a maple leaf.

During the entry of the 44 nations who are competing at these Games, athletes tugged on heart strings as they rolled in on wheelchairs, tugging on wheels up a fairly steep ramp. Many have had much higher and steeper hills to climb. As they came in some limped, others bore crutches. Some waved just one arm; others with visual impairments were led in by guides. Everyone smiled.

Canada has a deep affinity with its Paralympic athletes like Chantal Petitclerc, a 14-time Paralympic gold medallist who is among the country's best-known sportsmen or women, and Rick Hansen, a three-time Paralympic champion but who is better known for his Man in Motion tour.

That made it all the more shocking that most of Canada was denied the opportunity to share in the opportunity of seeing the central roles played by Petitclerc and Hansen in last night's Opening Ceremony by the crazy decision of CTV not to broadcast the event live nationwide. It was only decided to televise the event live in British Columbia on the morning of the event.

I understand that the Paralympics will never get the same coverage as the Olympics - and I don't think anyone involved in the Movement, including Sir Philip Craven, the President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), who was so critical of CTV's decision not to show the event coast-to-cast would ever expect it. But it was a grave insult to everyone involved in these Games that at least the Opening Ceremony was not afforded the same respect.

But, ironically, the man who was at the centre of the Ceremony was someone who never ever competed in the Paralympics but, in Canada at least, is linked closely to what it stands for.

Terry Fox was brought up close to Vancouver. In 1980, three years after losing a leg to osteosarcoma, he attempted to run across Canada in the Marathon of Hope to raise awareness of the disease. Fox hoped to raise one dollar for each of Canada's 24 million people, a goal he met despite being forced to end his run after 143 days and 5,300 kilometers when his cancer spread to his lungs. Fox died nine months after being forced to end his marathon.

A series of runs named in his honour and held around the world continues to raise money for cancer research.

There had been some criticism that, although Fox's mother Betty had been included the group of famous Canadians who carried the Olympic flag into BC Place during the Opening Ceremony of last month's Games, that he had been largely overlooked by organisers.
If that really was the case, then Vancouver 2010 tried very hard to rectify that omission here,

Betty and Rolly (pictured), Fox's father, were given the honour of slowly carrying the Paralympic flame into BC Place before it was passed among a ring of torch-bearers before Zach Beaumont, a 15-year-old athlete finally lit the cauldron to signal the Games were officially open.

I hope that Fox's parents feel that Terry was properly honoured. 

In a segment that tugged at the heart-strings - and certainly brought a tear to my eye - Fox was projected running on giant screens around BC Place. Or "Terry finally coming home," as one Canadian commentator explained to me. They then showed a television interview from all those years ago. "I keep hearing ‘Terry Fox' a lot," Terry said on the screen, from somewhere in Canada, still so young and vibrant and real.

"And I'm not doing the run to become rich; I'm not doing the run to become famous myself. I think that's a problem with our world today ... Because people are getting really selfish. A lot of people think they need a lot of money, they've got to be rich in order to be happy, but at the end of the run, I'm not going to keep a cent of it for myself, and I don't want a cent.

"To me, being famous myself is not the idea of the run, and it wasn't the idea from the very beginning ... I'm just one member of the Marathon of Hope. I'm no different from anybody else. I'm no better, I'm no lower. I'm equal, with all of you."

It summed up what the Paralympics are all about. Shame that CTV didn't listen.

Duncan Mackay is the editor of insideworldparasport, as well as insidethegames and insideworldfootball. He was formerly the athletics correspondent of The Guardian and The Observer. He was voted the British Sports Journalist of the Year in 2004 and last week won the British Sports Internet Writer of the Year for 2009. He will be writing a regular blog during the Paralympics

Pictures by Helen Grace Bennet

Sean Rose: I want the world to take British skiers seriously

The World Cup Downhill Win in Sestriere, Italy, last month was the culmination of a serious amount of work during the summer months of 2009. I took a brave decision to change equipment to a different rig which was like putting on a new pair of legs.

I swapped to Atomic skis, spent more time on my fitness, trained indoors at Milton Keynes Sno!Zone bashing gates and loads of time experimenting with the new kit. To top it off a trip to New Zealand during August with the team was more time on snow and invaluable extra training prior to the race season.

Things were going well, but one thing I had no idea about was how it all stacked up against my rivals. I had to wait until the Europa Cup competitions in December to find out. It was worth the wait as I took four medals plus two fourth places in a very competitive field. It proved we were on the right track and I was over the moon with my consistency.

In January, the first World Cup races of the season were in Europe. Firstly in Patscherkofel in Innsbruch where a great fifth place finish in slalom - having been second after the first run - turned me into a real slalom threat for the first time in my career and turned a lot of heads in the process.

The following week was not such a confidence booster as I struggled with the conditions at Abtenau World Cup races and crashed out, the only positive point was when I did finish a race the time was up there in the top six and in touch for the medals.

Then came the big one for me, back to Sestriere where I won the silver last year in the Downhill and raced well in the Turin 2006 Paralympic Games. I’d been dreaming about it all year. The course is fast, scary and full on which suits me down to the ground. There are sections that have your heart in your mouth and hanging on for grin death, but on crossing the finish line there is no better feeling in the world. Every nerve ending on your body is on fire and wanting to do it all again.

We had three training runs on the course and it was in perfect condition. I placed second, crashed then was fastest on the last one. It meant I was on it, but anything can happen on race day. I focused well on the day and just tried to repeat. It went awesome until I ran a little too straight at the bottom, it got real scary as I took a few gates and flew off the final rise at over 70 miles per hour. I remember thinking, "I should be turning by now", as I was still in the air. I landed and just managed to make the last gate and across the finish line, I was ecstatic with my run and didn’t need to wait long till I heard the gasps from other athletes as I took the lead. I had to sit and wait for a further 20-30 athletes to finish before I learned my fate.

It then all started, a rollercoaster of emotions, the feeling of winning is everything you ever imagined it would be and more. It’s difficult to put into words, apart from, “I did it”. My ambitions fulfilled, dreams realised, a massive sense of pride that you put GB on the top of the podium, I could go on and on... It was amazing!

Athletes, coaches, technical staff, everyone was happy for me, it just felt incredible, I was getting praise from all directions. The evening prize giving was like a fairy tale, as I sat in the middle of the stage, the National Anthem being played, my hat came off, a lump in my throat, I managed to hold back the tears but inside I was the happiest man in the world. That historic moment will live with me forever.

I had little time to dwell on it, the following day was another downhill race on the same course, all I needed to do was repeat the process. It went like clockwork till the final pitch. I got airborne, landed sideways, high sided and re-arranged the crash netting at over 70mph. Five hours in Hospital, no broken bones or internal issues, just severe trauma to my lower back. I’d experienced the high and lows of ski racing in just 24 hours.

I returned back to the UK to a storm of media publicity which was great to highlight the team's progress on the World stage. On top of this the team was selected for the Paralympics and I was delighted to be selected. We attended a celebration weekend up in Edinburgh for all the Paralympic athletes, exciting times as more games kit was issued, a party in Edinburgh Castle, then the following day we watched the Scotland versus France rugby match match. The realisation had sunk in, it was less than a month till we’ll be in the Paralympic Village.

After time with the family we need to get back on snow and are now in Winter Park, Colorado for pre-Games training. Time to test out the lower back for the first time since my crash and get back to fitness. The first day on snow today went well although very sore, think a week or so and we’ll be at full fitness.

After training here in Colorado, Russell Docker and I head over to Aspen for the World Cup Finals end of Februar prior to the Games to gain valuable speed training and although the major focus is experience for the Paralympics I still have a chance to lift the World Cup downhill title as well.

I feel extremely proud to represent my country at the Games, it’s a major honour and especially as this year I’m capable of bringing home the medals. I’m enjoying every moment this time round as I realise it goes by so quick you need to savour the occasion.

Our strong team of seven seated skiers this year is the largest ever taken in GB Winter Paralympic history. The team, management staff, volunteers and supporters have poured heart and soul into providing the best professional ran outfit possible and it’s paying off as we intend showing the rest of the world we’re not just here to make up numbers.

Sean Rose has been a member of Britain's Disabled Ski Team since 2003 and narrowly missed a medal at the Paralympics in Turin in 2006. His victory in Sestriere made him the first Briton to win a World Cup race. He has also represented Britain World Disabled Water Skiing Championships

Sharon Fraser: Wheelchair basketball is hardwork but fun

December 3 marked 1,000 days to go to the London 2012 Paralympic Games and, as Deloitte has long been an active supporter of disability sport in the UK, we were keen to celebrate this milestone in style. So a group of Deloitte Partners, including myself, was invited to take part in a wheelchair basketball game with players from the Great Britain men’s and women’s squads, who train just outside Manchester.

Pippa Cuckson: How the FEI managed to sabotage its own new anti-doping programme

The sheer incongruity of a sporting body relaxing its policy on certain drugs is bound to attract headlines, but there  was always a strange inevitability about the way the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) torpedoed  its  own clean sport campaign.

The FEI has just spent Euros 1.8 million (£1.6 million) and a year on formulating  measures to kick doping into touch after excruciating positive cases at the Olympic Games and crass revelations by German riders that damaged  the sport’s already dwindling stock with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).