Accessibility links

Paralympians Prep to Step into Spotlight

  • Al Pessin

BATH, England — Athletes from around the world are gathering in London again this week but this time they are Paralympians.

The 4,200 disabled athletes represent 160 countries, making the event the biggest Paralympic Games ever.

British Paralympians are at their training camp in Bath, in central England, using some of the same facilities used by Britain's Olympic athletes. However, these competitors are visually impaired or have other physical or mental disabilities.

Finding a sport and having the potential to be a champion are particularly important for these athletes. Among them is Georgina Callingham, 21, one of the youngest British Paralympians, who has cerebral palsy.

"Shooting has literally meant everything in my life the last year and a half," she says. "My friends have taken a back step. My social life has taken a back step. Literally, with me, I'm 100 percent focused on my match, and I will be throughout the match and throughout the time."

Outside, the men of Britain's Paralympic football team are practicing. One team member is in the unusual position of having a brother who played on Britain's Olympic football team.

"It's a dream come true," says Martin Sinclair. "I didn't think I'd be here, to be honest. You see over there, they're quite talented guys over there and it's a privilege to be with them. It's quite historic, you don't expect two brothers to be in the Olympics and the Paralympics."

Another competitor who never thought she'd be in this position is archer Kate Murray who, at 64, is the eldest member of the British team.

"It meant everything to me," says Murray, who was disabled by a spinal condition 13 years ago. "Now, archery is all to me. It keeps me going, keeps me younger than 64."

While the Paralympic Games are about winning medals, they also have a broader importance. Officials say they demonstrate what the disabled can accomplish with a little support, and they hope the games will help expand opportunities for disabled people around the world.

Training expert Penny Briscoe, who gave up a career in the Olympic movement to help raise the quality of the British Paralympic team, is inspired by the athletes she works with.

"As much as I've given, I've probably got 10-fold back in terms of the experiences that I've had," Briscoe says. "And it didn't take long, actually, to understand that I was involved in a pretty special project, if I can call it that."

Briscoe hopes the quality and character of these athletes will help change perceptions of what disabled people can do.