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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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The Best Sporting Event I’ve Attended


By Dr. Jim Rimmer

I’ve attended some milestone sporting events in my life so far. A few include a U.S. Open in golf and tennis; the 1986 World Series where Bill Buckner let a dribbler go between his legs and the NY Mets won their second World Series; the 1964 All-Star Game which involved two of my favorite players– Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays; the NY Knicks winning their only two world championships against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 and 1973 at Madison Square Garden; and the 1999 Men’s NCAA basketball tournament where the University of Connecticut defeated the heavily favored Duke Blue Devils.

But the 2012 Paralympic Games in London was by far the most incredible sporting event I have ever attended. I left Birmingham, Alabama with the pretense that the Paralympic Games would be competitive and would certainly draw some interest in Great Britain.  But I could never have imagined that the size of the crowds and the level of competition would be on the same scale as the Olympics. The capstone event was the 200-meter race between Oscar Pistorius and a little known newcomer from Brazil, Alan Oliveira. With over 80,000 fans in the sold-out stadium and millions more watching on TV, Pistorius led from the start in anticipation of winning his first gold medal of the London Paralympic Games. His sizeable lead over Oliveira evaporated in the final 20 meters with the surging Brazilian running like a thoroughbred racehorse determined to hit the finish line first. It was an incredible, come-from-behind victory.  

How fitting that this historic turning point in disability sports occurred in Great Britain, one of the birthplaces of the disability movement. Influential British writers, who were disabled themselves, redirected history from the medicalization of disability to the sociocultural experiences of the disabled individual. The Paralympic Games reinforced Britain’s support for the disability movement and challenged other countries to do the same.

How a society views disability was forever changed by the 2012 London Paralympic Games.  For the more than 4,000 disabled athletes who participated, the Games are now part of disability history, a pivotal moment where millions of spectators viewed disabled athletes with respect and pride. Scholars in disability studies should be proud of their accomplishments, promoting a social revolution that led to the largest and most successful Paralympic Games ever. Brazil in 2016 has a lot to live up to.


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