Channel 4’s Meet The Superhumans advert offers just a glimpse of the injuries and adversities that this year’s London 2012 Paralympic athletes have had to overcome to reach the starting line of their chosen sports. Behind every athlete hoping to shine at the Games is a story of passion and courage – here are ten to watch out for:
Name: Martine Wright
Sport: Sitting Volleyball
I remember 6 July 2005 so well. Everyone at my work watched the TV to hear the news; London had got the Olympic Games. We drank champagne. I wondered how I could get tickets. The following morning I was reading all about it on the Tube and then the bomb went off. I lost both my legs and spent eight months learning to walk again. And soon realised all my priorities had changed. I went back to my high-flying job but it didn’t seem right. I had my son, Oscar, in 2009 and knew I wanted to do something that would replace that drive and ambition I had in the workplace. In 2009 I went to a Paralympic Potential Day for amputees, tried volleyball and fell in love. We’re all out of our chairs, which is so liberating, and the competition is fierce. It’s a great event. The Games are going to be emotional. To be doing this in my city is so strange. I think maybe fate got me on that Tube and that maybe I was always supposed to go on this journey that finds me now as a proud Paralympian.
Sitting volleyball semi-finals, Wednesday 5 September
Name: Jody Cundy, MBE
Sport: Cycling C4
I was born with a deformed right foot, which was amputated when I was three. I never shirked getting involved. Aged five, I went for my first swimming lesson and was saved from the bottom of the pool by one of the parents. That mishap didn’t put me off, though, and I went on to win three gold medals in the pool for Great Britain at three Paralympics between 1996 and 2004. A year after the 2004 Games I discovered the bike and haven’t looked back. I love the track. The Olympic Games, and specifically what has happened at the Velodrome, have been incredible – a nice little warm-up to our event, but definitely an inspiration for us to match them. Yes, I have been successful in the past but my gold medals are all in a box somewhere. I don’t think that my having them gives me a right to any more. This is like a first Games because none of us have experienced a home Games before.
Individual C4-5 1km time trial, Friday 31 August. Cundy also competes in the individual pursuit and team sprint.
Name: Steve Brown
Sport: Wheelchair Rugby
I am so proud to be the captain of the Team GB wheelchair rugby team. It is they who inspired me when I injured myself and so to have come full circle and now be able to lead them in a Paralympics is incredible. In 2005 I was working abroad for a holiday company in Germany. I fell from a balcony, broke my neck, spent three weeks in intensive care over there before being moved to a hospital in Stoke Mandeville where I began my rehabilitation. I was always sporty, but those months after my injury, when I was dealing with the fact I wouldn’t walk again, were tough and I’ll admit that I was scared. Scared of trying new things, especially wheelchair rugby, or murderball as it was known. That fear soon disappeared, though. The sport appealed to my competitive side. In hospital things were easy, everyone wanted to help, do things for me. I grew tired of that and rugby was my escape. I soon realised that I had to concentrate on the third of the body I can move and not the two-thirds I can’t and now, here I am.
Mixed wheelchair rugby, Wednesday 5 September
Name: Jade Jones
Sport: Athletics (400m, 800m, 1500m T54)
I was born without my femur [thigh bone] but it’s a situation you deal with and move on from. I was very young when Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who’s now my coach, came to my school sports day and suggested I try a racing chair. I love competing. I broke the British record for 400m this year and when records are falling, you know things are going OK. You can’t put into words just how exciting the Paralympics is. I have had my schoolwork to distract me but that is all done for now and I am raring to go.
400m T54 first round, Monday 3 September
Name: Dave Clarke
Sport: Five-a-Side Football
My eyesight deteriorated from an early age because of congenital glaucoma and I was fully blind as a child. Thanks to my parents, I was independent and, like most young guys, wanted to try sport. I was searching for something, and while I knew football was my best event there wasn’t the opportunity to do it. Gradually that has changed and it’s now unbelievably professional. In blind football each team has a guide on the touchline and within the ball there’s a device we can hear. To have competed at an elite level has lifted my whole life. Thanks to football I’ve travelled the world and enjoyed sporting success – it’s changed my life. Hopefully the parents of a blind five-year-old kid will realise that like any other children, theirs can join in and excel at it.
GB v Spain, Friday 31 August
Name: Richard Whitehead
Sport: Athletics (100m, 200m T42)
Born without both my lower legs, I remember watching a film called The Terry Fox Story in the late 1980s. Terry had lost a leg because of cancer and ran across Canada, doing a marathon a day. Watching that, I knew that one day I’d take up the challenge and do something similar. That’s why I started out as a marathon runner but I now do sprinting. I’m very driven. I surround myself with very dynamic people, but to me success isn’t just about a gold medal, it’s about inspiring others and the legacy that you leave behind. I want to put on a show that will excite the paying public in the stadium. I want to show young people with difficulties that anything is possible. I am so pumped for this. My nickname is “Monster”, which says it all. I’m a Nottingham lad, very patriotic and the British lion means everything to me. Plenty say I am favourite for the gold and that might be right, but it won’t distract me. I still have to deliver on the day and that is what it is all about.
200m T42 first round, Saturday 1 September
Name: Stephanie Reid
Sport: Athletics (100m, 200m T44/Long Jump F44)
I was 16 when I lost my right foot in an engine propeller in a boating accident in 2000. In an instant I felt as if life as I knew it had ended for good. I went through a very difficult stage in which I was angry with everyone. But then a nurse at the hospital spoke to me firmly and honestly and said that I had to build a new life for myself. While studying at Queen’s University, Ontario, I watched a track and field practice and decided to join them. I had to learn everything from scratch, including how to use running prosthesis. It took a long time to adapt, but by the time I was in my fourth year, I was competing for the varsity team. Then I made it into the Canada squad and won bronze in the 200m in Beijing. My mum is originally from Darlington and my dad from Glasgow, and in 2009 I decided to change allegiance to Team GB. My mum asked me, “Can you wear the British uniform with pride when you walk into that stadium in 2012?” and I can; I’m really proud of my heritage and it’s an honour to represent Great Britain.
100m T44 first round, Saturday 1 September
Name: Mark Colbourne
Sport: Cycling C1
I was paragliding near the Gower Peninsula in 2009. I flew into a cross wind, and the canopy collapsed. When I hit the floor, the canopy re-inflated and dragged me 70m. I’d broken my back. I learnt to walk again though I still have lower leg paralysis. But my quads still work and that’s why I can excel on a bike. After the accident, I didn’t want normality and was encouraged to cycle. I started with stabilisers but two weeks later, off they came and I was away. My father died in February and I will think about him and my family before the race but during the time I’m racing, it’s all about business.
C1-2-3 1km time trial, Thursday 30 August. Colbourne also competes in the individual pursuit (track) and time trial (road)
Name: Hannah Cockroft
Sport: Athletics (100m, 200m t34)
I was born with brain damage. Because I don’t display the obvious symptoms, there have been times when I got some abuse, but I didn’t let it get me down, and it’s stopped. I have broken world records this year and so people expect me to win gold but I am only 20, and have only been racing for four years. If I do win gold, I’m hoping my favourite band McFly will take me on holiday. Please!
100m T34 first round, Friday 31 August
Name: Ellie Simmonds, MBE
Sport: Swimming (50m, 100m, 400m freestyle S6, 200m indiv medley SM6)
I was born with achondroplasia (dwarfism), but I’ve always been focused and determined. Once I set my mind to something, there was always a chance I’d do well at it. I started swimming when I was five at a club in Walsall. I competed against able-bodied swimmers when I started racing at eight, and never felt as if I was different. I’m just a normal person, but a bit smaller. My swimming career really took off when I was ten and talent-spotted by UK Sport. I moved from the Midlands to Swansea the following year with my mum, to be nearer to a 50m pool and to be coached by Billy Pye. Every weekend we go back to Birmingham after training to spend time with my dad and to see my three sisters and brother. People think it’s been a huge sacrifice, but look at what I’ve achieved, including the 100m and 400m freestyle golds at the Paralympic Games in Beijing. This time I’m a bit older and more experienced and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it much more.
400m freestyle S6 heats, Saturday 1 September.