Saturday 25th August 2012
PARA too comes from Greece: παρα, meaning ‘beside’ or ‘alongside’.
So far, the closest I’ve been is the tongue-in-cheek humour of those Channel 4 hoardings, seen through coach windows when you turn on to the Cromwell Road just after Earl’s Court.
Here in Bath, a hundred miles west along the A4, is a more immediate warm-up, with taster sports sessions, wheelchair athletes, adapted bicycles, and even a few hours of sunshine to match the heat of the Paralympic flame.
I wander into the Leisure Centre on North Para-de.
Coach Andy Townsend, an amputee from the age of three and 1992 volleyball Paralympian, is doing an interview for the BBC:
“Activities they wouldn’t normally do… try the wheelchair out… thoroughly enjoying themselves.”
I exchange smiles with a proud mum, watching her son whizzing across the basketball court: the joyful paradox of a disabled youngster more able than his peers; stronger of throw; niftier when turning.
Children are fencing, playing table tennis, dancing on wheels. Everyone waits patiently for a go. There is no arguing, complaining, or showing off in today’s pleasure centre.
Boccia is pronounced bot-cha. Betcha never seen anything like it before. Catch it on telly later.
It’s a cross between bowls and pétanque. Leather balls are thrown, kicked, or released down ramps by those with cerebral palsy. Robbie nods approval as his red ball rolls to within a few inches of the jack: the very paragon of a parabola: you get the impression he could do it every time.
Outside, finding the Wheels for All site, I trundle round on an adapted bike with a handlebar crank, so you both steer and propel yourself manually. Having a padded seat instead of a saddle, it’s like riding on a mobile throne.
The Rec is enjoying a field day: flying frisbees; six-a-side rugby-tennis; circus skills; agile kids scaling the parapet of a climbing wall; a stilt-walker and unicyclist; the obligatory face painting.
And still to come, the carnival procession.