Liz Johnson: Appetite for Paralympic sport growing ahead of London 2012

Thursday, 26 August 2010

With all the excitement around the recent London 2012 Olympic Games "Two Years To Go" landmark, it’s very encouraging to see major announcements in the Paralympic world ahead of this key date.

The record attendance at this year’s BT Paralympic World Cup showed that the appetite and understanding of Paralympic sport in the UK is growing. 

The announcement earlier this month that BT has signed up to a major sponsorship of Channel 4’s Paralympic programming also demonstrates that huge steps forward are being made in Paralympic sport.  Channel 4’s commitment to Paralympic programming starts now and goes right the way through to the Paralympic Games. 

I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in the filming for the Inside Incredible Athletes documentary that will air on Channel 4 this Sunday (August 29) at 9pm as part of their launch weekend.  Part of the documentary focuses on the science of our disabilities.  I have always had an understanding of my cerebral palsy and the reasons behind it.  Basically, the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. 

However, because the left side of my brain was damaged since birth, the right side of my brain effectively does extra work and controls both sides of my body, but to less effective physically on my right side. The scientist that we met as part of the documentary looked much deeper than this, even taking brain scans and mapping where the damaged areas are. 

Amazingly, he also told me that given the extent of the damage, I should technically have much less mobility than I actually have. It’s fascinating to get an insight into why I am the way I am and also to see other top Paralympic athletes on the programme go through the same process.

This documentary, along with other Paralympic programming on Channel 4, such as the new That Paralympic Show, will be incredibly important in highlighting the quality and skills of Paralympic athletes.  We are athletes with a disability, rather than people with a disability who, as a result, become athletes. These programmes will allow people to see that we train as elite athletes and have to make all the commitments and sacrifices needed to get to, and stay, at the top of our field.

Also airing on Channel 4 this weekend will be highlights from the IPC World Swimming Championships that took place in Eindhoven. I gained a bronze medal in one of my events and, although I would have liked to have featured higher up the medal rankings, I’m also having to be patient and stick to my race and development plans. 

Since I won gold in Beijing I have made a lot of changes to my training and lifestyle, all with the aim of becoming a faster swimmer.  This all forms part of a longer programme and once all the ingredients come together I am confident that it won’t be long before I really start hitting some impressive times.

All this hard work has a lot to do with London 2012. The fact that there are only two years to go to the Paralympics is a real reminder as to why I’m working so hard to become the best athlete I can be. A tough winter of training is coming up - it gets difficult to wake up on dark mornings and spend massive chunks of the day indoors. The lack of daylight and intensity of training over winter is always a difficult time for me, and a lot of other athletes, especially as for me this is when the hardest period and type of training is. It’s exhausting, but the thought of competing at a Paralympic Games on home soil acts as the best possible driver towards achieving my goals. 

It’s not just the athletes that can use the Two Years To Go landmark to inspire them. Since London was announced as the winning bid, public support for the Games and GB athletes has steadily increased and now it’s clear that excitement is building. 

It’s great to see so many people showing interest in being spectators or volunteers. I hope that this enthusiasm and increased understanding of the Paralympics and the associated sports will create a longer lasting legacy for disability sport in the UK and beyond.

Liz Johnson is a BT Ambassador, and will also be appearing on Inside Incredible Athletics, sponsored by BT (Sunday August 29, Channel 4, 21.00). Highlights from the IPC Swimming World Championships will be shown on Channel 4 on Monday August 30 at 11.50. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. BT is long term supporter of Paralympic sport in the UK, from partnering ParalympicsGB until 2016, to its title sponsorship of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For further information click here.

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