A week ago I was waiting for my tube train to arrive and I spotted a poster – National Paralympic Day 2014. I went home and googled it and that’s it, I was sold!
After a few text message conversations, a friend and I made a (slightly too) early start and headed down to where it was all happening. When we got there a festival awaited.
I had managed to secure some tickets to go into the Aquatics Centre. This was the first time some of a paralympians were in action since 2012 and the atmosphere inside was electric. One of the big things that stand out for me about the Paralympics was watching and cheering on some of our athletes who clearly had hurdles to face on a daily basis. Their courage and determination is incredible, and on Saturday this spirit was on display again. We cheered on our girls and boys and watched some great victories.
After a pit stop for lunch I said goodbye to my friend and continued wandering. The Liberty Festival (as part of the day) was by this point in full swing. I initially went into the Copper Box (dubbed during the Paralympics as “The Box that Rocked”) and saw Team GB beat Belgium in a closely fought GoalBall match. Goalball was new to me, but the level of skill in playing a ball game without sight / blindfolded is so admirable. I was on the edge of my seat!
Outside “The Box That Rocked” there was so much going on. Artists were painting with their mouths and feet (better than I could ever dream of!) Boccia England were giving everyone the chance to learn about the intricacies of the sport and wheelchair ballroom dancing was taking place – awesome! I joined in from afar, as did the majority of the audience.
The sense of inclusion for everyone was very special. There was such an amazing vibe during the day. This is the second year the day has been celebrated at the park, and I for one intend going every year from now on. There were visitors there with all sorts of abilities, and all with something special to give. Paralympians wandered the park in their Team GB kit, and whilst they weren’t wearing their gold London 2012 medals it wouldn’t have been out of place if they had have been. With so much going on at times it was hard to know where to look.
As an aside, for me it was the first time I had visited the Olympic Park, now known as the ‘Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’ since the Paralympic games back in 2012. The changes to (and demolition of) some of the venues plus what was happening to the grounds had been much debated on the London news networks. I hoped I would be as impressed with the legacy of the park as I was with its original form. The park has been open for several months, but it was the first opportunity I’d had to visit, and I can honestly say I was not disappointed. The landscaped gardens and trees are now well established, and large areas of the concourse have been opened up to reveal the waterways below. It is clear that the stadium is still undergoing its transformation, but the Aquatics Centre is fanatastic and the velodrome the beautiful building I remembered.
Now my closing confession is I do love going round old Olympic stadia. Dean has been marched round the Olympic villages of Seoul and more recently Beijing with me. Whilst both have been amazing, they have lacked a little of the ‘va va voom’ that they once had. I suspect it was way more than the sense of occasion on Saturday that meant that the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park still has that something special. Something that you can’t put your finger on but my goodness, London you still have it! As for the athletes – your courage is amazing and your skill just incredible. Keep up the good work and see you next year for National Paralympic Day 2015!