This morning I woke up with an unexpected emotional blanket wrapped around me, all weepy. I don’t know if it’s because I’m looking at these Paralympics as a witness or the massive out pouring of accepted value of athletes performances or just plain gratitude for being here as this stunner of a Paralympics unfolded with my inclusion hopes in hand.
What I do know is that I am not the only one feeling the feelings of value, pride, gratitude and love welling up in this Paralympic container. Another person who gets it in spades is Jeff Adams. Jeff is a Canadian working here in London for Channel 4 as an announcer of the Athletics events in these Paralympics Games. He is a Paralympian having won three gold, four silver and six bronze medals from 1988 to 2008.
I’ve known Jeff since he began his wheelchair racing career having conversations with him throughout about the Paralympic movement and have known him to be a thoughtful person on the subject of inclusion. Jeff and I had a conversation following the evening Athletics session that Jonnie Peacock and David Weir won their gold medals. Here are some of Jeff’s thoughts on these Paralympic Games.
Me: How did you find out about this opportunity to work with Channel 4?
Jeff: I’ve been doing broadcasting in Canada for sometime now. The coach of team GB was a coach in Canada before taking this job in the UK and heard they were doing a talent search so I sent them my reel.
Me: What’s your take on these games?
Jeff: I wondered coming here, if I could do this work and not feel the hunger to compete. I couldn’t, I felt the desire and hunger to be out there. My first competition was in 1988 and each time the games come around they get better, these are the best games ever. The media did very interesting advertisements; the focus has been on the sports. Channel 4 was talking about disability, demystifying it and also using these stories. They talked about why sport is valuable whether it’s turning a stereotype on it’s head or teaching someone about teamwork or dedication and hard work all these things we have learned as athletes is valuable. But if we watch sport and all we are doing is watching people going round in circles as fast as they can, it’s nice and fun and entertaining but it’s not that valuable.
When we take the lessons we learn in sport and we apply them to our lives and in our life and take them to make ourselves better athletes we complete the circle and we make every part of that circle more valuable. The way people have responded to the programming, they are watching what is happening in the lives of the Paralympians, in the sport they’re doing, hearing their stories and taking the messages home making their lives better spreading the message of the Paralympics. These are the lessons this kind of event teaches us.
Me: Can these stories keep this romance alive?
Jeff: Yes, when you tell stories it crosses the blood brain barrier and it hits us where it counts. These compelling gut wrenching stories in the Olympics and the Paralympics are about people that have fallen down and gotten back up.
They are not about the silver spoon and winning the race and when things go well, it’s a nice story but it’s not the one the crowds love. At the Olympics we saw these stories of amazing things that inspire us, here at the Paralympics there are 3000 of these stories across all the disabilities classes every single person that competes or as a guide runner, all the disciplines in the Paralympics have a story. They all have stories that are compelling and inspiring. You know we often react negatively to that inspiration reaction to our stories as a Paralympian insisting that the sport should be put first and it should be but It’s the stories that give the depth to this experience and I think we have to tell them.
Me: What’s the next step for IPC to put this event forward?
Jeff: I think the biggest thing we have to do is let go of this mentality of being validated by our connection to the Olympics. That the Olympics has higher, faster, stronger and the Paralymics has mind, body, spirit and they are equally valuable but have very distinct messages that each can live on their own and parallel. They don’t have to be blended crammed together in a space where they don’t fit. They are different messages and they provide different opportunities to both the participants and to the audiences. Working together to most effectively broadcast these messages is paramount.
We shouldn’t be dependent on each other. I would like to see more of something that has been going on here, this Proud Paralympian thing. The first time I’ve ever seen this kind of thing in the Paralympics. We see it in gender issues, in racial issue, sexual identity issues where there is this pride and a movement thing. This is the first time I’ve seen it expressed with that word pride and it so exciting to see that finally happening in this community.
Me: With this pride happening is it going to elevate the Paralympian and the people with disabilities that aren’t athletes coming to see the events, will they take the pride and apply it in their lives. Can you see it breaking down stigmas?
Jeff: Yeah I think so, we were talking earlier about about women going to women’s panels and giving somebody a voice to speak about things that have an impact on their lives to the people that they are surrounded by. Providing a strong voice and an opportunity to use events like this and spin the events like this as platform to broadcast messages that will make people’s lives better. Like there is nothing else we should be doing then making peoples lives better as humans and that is all that we should be doing.
Me: We should be making lives better for ourselves and others?
Jeff: Yeah, my Dad gave me the best lessons I ever learned. He always told me that you should never go so far. Be a little bit nicer. And the same thing goes with education or science or power whatever you think is valuable in your life. Make a slow accrual, and a working together so that nobody gets too far from anyone else. Leaders let people look at the horizon. If we as Paralympians can give other people a voice from our performances in Tunisia or the Middle East or anywhere, then we are spreading the spirit, the really good word.
Me: Is the good word human rights?
Jeff: Yeah the foundation and core of the opening ceremonies the foundation and core of what we do, respecting human rights. Thank you Jeff!
Blessings to All, Cheers, Candace
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