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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Spirit of the Games - In Action

Once the Olympics were over, with the lull that followed, I wondered along with half of Britain, whether the Paralympics could live up to the hype. Now that they too are over, I have to say that for me at least if anything, I found these even more exhilarating. This may have been because in this case, I was able to see not one, but two of the events live at different venues across London - North Greenwich Arena and the Excel Arena.

Watching the Paralympic opening ceremony was for me just mind blowing. The theme of Enlightenment told me all that I needed to know. It may have been dressed up as a celebration of science, and it certainly was that, but for those who are on the spiritual path, science and spirituality are really the same thing. The search for the Higgs Boson, otherwise known as the God particle is a search to understand not just the origins of the universe, but the building blocks of life itself, life being who and what we are. The words life and spirituality in this context, can be seen as interchangeable, for what else when it really comes down to it, is life about?

As for the motto "Spirit in Action", well isn't that what we all are - and these games were a fine example of just that. To witness the trials and the triumphs that these elite athletes went through (if anyone doubts this, then watch Jody Cundy's completely understandable outburst) was the perfect showcase for this phrase. The spirituality was there in the Olympics too for sure, but much less obvious, with the Paralympics it was right there in your face, with bells and whistles, and it needed to be in order to get the message across - with 21st December and the energetic portal that that represents now just around the corner, we do not have the time to pussy foot around - people either get it or they don't, and they won't unless we let them know in the most obvious way and with the widest possible audience.

If I thought the Opening Ceremony was impressive, then the Closing Ceremony was even more so, with its steam punk theme and Pagan imagery depicting the elements and the seasons with words from the Order of the Druids no less. The more I think about it, the more spirituality I see in these games, even the motto "spirit in action", which can be taken in so many different ways - on the one hand we are all spirits in physical form, taking action to step out into the physical world and be seen, and on the other, the games also represent the fighting spirit of these champion athletes and the trials that they have to go through to be seen as the equals that they are. Lord Coe was absolutely right when he said that disability will never be seen in quite the same way again. The spectacle of blind footballers and one legged high jumpers made even me (and remember I work with those with disabilites - half of our residents are in wheelchairs), think.

Those first few days after the opening ceremony surpassed all expectations, with it seems records being broken each time that I tuned in. Various residents television sets at the nursing home where I work proved most obliging, with the residents enjoying my company and being most bemused by my seeming ability to materialise in front of their screens each time a particularly loud cheer erupted, and there were plenty of them - Richard Whitehead, Ellie Simmons and of course Sarah Storey, the greatest of all the Paralympians with 22 medals in 2 different disciplines.

After the Road Cycling Races and the Olympics that followed, Coran and I knew that we wanted to see at least one Paralympic event, and Wheelchair Basketball being our sport of choice, we were overjoyed to find tickets available on my first day off following the Opening Ceremony. The Basketball took place at the North Greenwich Arena, formerly known as the O2, where almost four years to the day Coran had been taken ill with a suspected heart attack while on the way home from a Stevie  Wonder concert. Initially reluctant to go back to this venue, Coran realised that part of the purpose for this second visit was to clear the negative energy that we were both still holding on to after that night.

Wheelchair Basketball turned out to be an amazing game to watch, fast paced and furious - seeing how the players tackle each other and trip over and manage to get back up again is really something else.

The first match we saw was Poland versus Japan (men's) which Poland won and then after a short break it was the women's turn - Team GB versus Australia. Sadly (sorry Australians) Australia won, but they were the better team and so did of course deserve it - I certainly wouldn't want to mess with those women! Team GB put up a good effort, but the Aussie's got such a flying start that it was very difficult for us to catch up. These were of course only the preliminaries, and many more games followed for all the teams. 

Coran and I were lucky enough though to be seated right down the front, in the very first row in front of the pitch, so for us, it could not have been any better. The crowd were amazing, if a little loud, but hey they were watching our own home team, so that was as it should be. The journey too was uneventful, and the company was good.

The exhilaration of seeing live Paralympic events fed both of our appetites, and was we found most addictive, so having spent a most enjoyable day watching the Wheelchair Basketball, along with many others, I tried to get some more tickets and eventually managed to get 2 for the Sitting Volleyball men's final on the penultimate day. I noticed that the tickets seemed to go on sale around 6pm most nights, which I suppose was the deadline for the corporations to say whether they had filled all of their own seats. While we would have liked to have seen the Olympic Park itself, sadly this was not to be. Actually now that the Games are over, and I have spoken to those who were there, I am glad that we did not go, as I think we may have found it too much, especially had we been in the stadium. I am more than happy with the events that we did see, as you don't often get the chance to see a gold medal event, and to get 2 lots of tickets was brilliant, when there were so many who didn't get any at all.

That night - which was only a few nights ago, was one that I shall always remember. It was touch and go as to whether we would make it in to the Arena as on the journey up in the morning Coran started to feel nauseous and shaky. Thankfully the amazing helpers in the medical room sorted us out, and after an hour or so in the dark room with some reassurance from the Doctor and her helpers (my own honesty and vulnerability helped as well in expressing how I felt, which encouraged Coran to do the same)  Coran felt well enough to go inside. Our seats were at the end of the aisle which helped, as it meant that we could wander in and out without disturbing people.

We had a brilliant view though of the pitch, only about 5 rows back, and the crowds were incredible, if rather noisy - especially the Iranians for the Gold medal match. The first match was Egypt versus Brazil, which Brazil won, and then it was the bronze medal decider between Russia and Germany. It was incredibly close, and by the third set it really looked as if Russia were going to win, but the Germans managed to pull things back and in the end, although it was still close, they won. Sadly we we had gone out for a walk and so missed the actual moment, but the gold match was of course the most important. I don't think anything would have got me out of the Arena for that one.

I have never seen so many Iranians (or Bosnians for that matter) in one place, other than Iran (or Bosnia) - waving huge flags and chanting, blowing their horn type things (I am surprised they let them bring them in), with the women in their colourful hijabs. It was lovely to see such scenes of celebration, cheering on their teams. Every time Iran scored, they got louder and louder.

This was a a very close match as well, like the Bronze Medal - we did go outside a few times when the noise became too much, and for a cup of tea just to keep going. We were sitting down drinking our tea when Coran spotted a games maker with a Paralympic Torch by the Manderville statue, so we went over to investigate and he took our picture with us holding it - a real live torch ! When we got back inside, the crowd were at fever pitch, with Bosnia in the lead. It seemed that every time Bosnia scored, the Iranians would then get another one, evening things out. This seemed to the scene for most of the game until almost the end of the third set, which went to Bosnia. The Bosnians went wild, as it meant that they were in with a chance - if Iran had won the first three, then they would have got the gold. The final set was so close, it was electrifying, but when it got to the point where Bosnia had a 6 point lead, I think everyone knew what the outcome would be, and they swept to victory.

Having stayed for this long, we had to stay for the victory ceremony. By this time my camera battery was threatening to run out (I had already used up by first one, having taken almost 800 pictures - thank goodness for sport and burst mode). I had to be very selective then over what I took in those final moments, but thankfully the battery did keep firing, and I managed to get another 100 or so shots.

By the time we got in it was almost 11.30pm, and it had been a VERY long day - long, but so very worthwhile. We paid for it the following day, especially Coran, who had to go back into London for a hospital appointment, but it was worth every single moment to say that we were part of history and witnessed one of the finest sporting events I have ever seen. Now that the games are over, I am seriously considering a trip to Rio!

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