Wednesday 12 September 2012

Holding on as tight as you can to inspiration

Without sounding smug, London 2012 confirmed something I already knew.

- That sport seems to have a power like no other to make individuals more aspirational, more inspired, more motivated, more connected with people they've never connected with before. It can not only only give an individual a feeling of belonging and pride, it can give that to an entire country.

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics changed without a doubt, the way the UK saw itself, saw disability and ability... the way it saw sport.
It took the genre out of cynicism, of stories of corruption, of tribal fighting and drinking culture, of being about just money and took it back to it's roots and stripped sport to it's core. It showed as Seb Coe said, that: "In every Olympic sport there is all that matters in life. Human's stretching themselves to the limit of their ability". It brought together nations in friendship and within the UK itself, neighbourhoods together in friendship too.
From the local boys and girls carrying the Olympic Flame to it's destination to the local heroes being called on by that flame to excel in every way possible. For us, in the United Kingdom, we united as a country to see triumph we never thought possible. And everyone had a hero of their own to inspire them, be them learning to ride their bike on the same velodrome as Wiggo, or be them from the same place as the triumphant county of Yorkshire.

On Monday, during the Greatest Team Parade, sadness this incredible summer had ended was palpable. People were asking - "what now?" The Olympics and Paralympics have been like a drug our country has had the most incredible high from. But the side effects could be even better than the drug itself.

Athletes can become heroes or heroines to inspire people to take part in sport. But they wouldn't have become those incredible individuals they are, had they not been part of the participation pool, that gives so much satisfaction on a basic level, but also creates new heroes and heroines for the future.

There is a sadness to the ending of what has been the most incredible summer of sport. Sport of the best kind, of sportsmanship, pure tireless work and training, of focus, of drama and intensity and athletes putting their bodies on the line to represent their country and do the jersey on their back justice.

But London 2012 can already say: "Generation Inspired."

The question is, how will that translate into grass routes level participation?
Well I can only tell you my personal story of one particular athlete, who is a London 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and how she has inspired me to take on a very particular challenge to raise awareness for Epilepsy.

Joanna Rowsell is an Olympian and like another hero of mine Dai Greene, she is an Olympian with a medical condition. When I first saw Jo take to the boards at a world championship I remember vividly wondering if she had cancer? Her performance was astounding and like the misunderstandings there are with epilepsy, I misunderstood Jo's medical condition, alopecia.
I'm ashamed I thought that Jo's alopecia was the result of side effects of cancer, but then I had never heard of alopecia. Because of Jo, I ended up researching the condition and to me, she is the perfect example of how you create awareness through inspiration, rather than ignorance and self stigmatisation through a role model's fear of exposing their condition.
She has never worried about removing her helmet to stand on a podium (usually the top step I might add), where her condition is in full view for everyone to see and for young people with the same condition, to see and be inspired and to have a specific role model of their own to relate to.

But I don't have alopecia, I have epilepsy. So how did Jo inspire me I hear you ask?

Well, she inspired me for two reasons, I could relate hugely to feeling like I shouldn't be ashamed to show signs of my own condition. In my case, it's the white streak on the right hand side of my head where I had my neurosurgery and my purple medical bracelet I wear 24/7.
But Jo inspired me as a female cyclist too. At the Olympic track cycling test event in the Stratford Velodrome, I saw great courage, courage of pushing yourself to the absolute limit. I was a field of play volunteer within the velodrome when Jo rode one of her toughest events, the individual pursuit. She showed her guts, quite literally, pushing herself to the point of being sick. But she also won the race.

The absolute commitment to that particular race made me think even more seriously about my own time trial of a different kind - trying to break the women's 24hr track cycling WR.

I'm very thankful I managed to make it up onto a wall near Charing Cross Station during my lunch hour, to send her a personal message on Monday during the parade. I'd actually made a bit of a hash of what I had planned to do - to salute her with my Olympic Torch personally, so I wrote a message on a board instead and proudly held it high, wearing my Olympic Torchbearer uniform in the process. My torch was in the window of the jewellery shop who had so kindly donated a necklace to my charity Epilepsy Action. Unfortunately I hadn't realised the shop was shut on the day, so it all almost went a bit Pete Tong!

But the athletes representing us during London 2012, deserve all the cheers and thanks we can give them. From me - thanks to Jody Cundy for pointing me out to Jo in the crowd, as they stood on their float lapping up the applause for their incredible achievements.

There was however, one notable absence in the parade and you could argue, the Olympics only took a few days to create it's first legacy. One of personal inspiration and self belief - Andy Murray becoming the first British man in 76 years to the day, to win a major tennis title.
Andy beat Novak Djokovic in five sets to win the US Open only a couple of weeks after winning Olympic Gold and Silver in London.

I hope the attitude towards sport in this country changes every generations view of it. The likes of Jo has showed exactly how to be an inspiration and lead by an example of physical achievement which no-one can dispute. She's let her legs do the talking.

My only worry is that apparently the world is going to end in 2012!

So to whoever is responsible for this can I ask you a favour...
Please make sure you let us see BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 first, before you wipe us all out.

Many thanks,

Katie, age 6.
... plus 20.

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