Two years ago, London showed the world how it is possible to focus on ability, rather than disability. At the closing ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympic Games, the word “impossible” was transformed – abtly so by a disabled athlete - into “I’m possible”.
This collective vision, something we have named the “Paralympic Spirit”, resonated throughout all of Sochi’s impressive venues last week. Russia fought hard during these games to prove it has changed the age-old perceptions it has long been recognised for. Sir Phillip Craven dubbed the games the greatest Winter Paralympics ever. It is hard to disagree. Eight days of intense competition saw some of the world’s most talented disabled sportspersons battle against each other.
Russia certainly delivered at these Games. They paid to put on the show, and they took home the majority of the medals, too. An incredible 80 were hung around the neck of Russian athletes. Being British myself, it would be impossible to write this piece without paying homage to the ParalympicsGB team who put in the best performance at a Winter Games for over 30 years. The success was mainly due to the performance of visually impaired skier Jade Etherington, who took home 6 medals.
Twice seeing President Vladimir Putin standing just a few metres away from me inside the venues confirmed my feeling that these games are now a greatly important cultural event. Putin of course has the well-documented Crimean crisis to contend with, but this did not prevent him showing support for his country at the Games.
American Nordic skier Augusto Perez told journalists after his final race, “If you don’t enjoy life then you die the day you are diagnosed, not the day you die.” Perez discovered he had cancer in 2000 and has found a new perspective on life. Perez IS the Paralympic spirit. This man has experienced great pain and hardship, but the determination to pull through means he can showcase his talents, spreading the message that a disability should not halt your progress.
All that is left to say is the reason why fifteen young journalists were allowed to be in Sochi to report on these monumental games. The Paralympic Post project has been a fantastic advocate for student opportunity. Never before have I seen a journalism project that puts so much trust into the work of young people.
To be able to take part in the project twice gives me a great sense of pride. Memories are plentiful, and the people involved will be remembered for the rest of my life. Every single person was incredibly lucky to be able to live and work at the biggest and most important Paralympic Winter Games. So for these Games, I take off my hat: thank you Russia, you’ve changed our views forever.