This story appears at ABC Open’s I Was There – 500 Words Project
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The Paralympics, in 2000, gave us one of the most precious memories of our life in Sydney.
My husband and I were living there with our two young children (our youngest was not yet born.) We were both looking after them, whilst doing our PhDs at the University of Sydney on scholarships, and had just moved to the inner city.
Obtaining tickets to the Olympic events was hard and expensive. We were on a pretty tight budget. We chose instead to watch the Marathon with some close friends, from the road side (cheering on the world with a banner and chanting ‘World, oi, oi,’ which people joined in with) and watch what we could on television, including the race to stop the Nation, with ‘Our Cathy.’
However, when the Paralympics came along there were many tickets still available and everyone in Sydney was encouraged to support the paralympians as much as the Olympians so we knew this was our chance to make it to something special. The organisers wanted full venues and began to offer cheaper tickets to some of the events.
We decided it was a brilliant opportunity to see some athletes doing their bit for their countries, and went to buy tickets to the athletics, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis.
What an experience!
These athletes were so talented, humble and approachable.
We felt honoured to be able to witness their feats in the sporting arena and at the athletics there was an extra treat. Many of the athletes sat amongst the crowd between their events and freely mingled.
We were sitting a few seats down from a medal winner, Tracy, a visually impaired runner from England, and wanted to congratulate her on the recent win in the 200 metres we had just seen. She had blonde hair and a kind face and wasn’t very tall. Everyone around us seemed to be doing the same, so we didn’t feel shy to and began to approach her. Before we knew it my eldest son (at the time just a toddler) was sitting on her lap for a photo with the medal around his neck. I remember her coach or manager lifted our son up to make it easier for him.
She also signed our Paralympic program.
We saw her and other Paralympians as we wearily but happily made our way out of the stadium later. They were surrounded by admiring youngsters, having photos taken, autographing and encouraging them to do their best whatever life deals them.
They had no trouble being ambassadors as well as athletes and did it with such unforgettable dignity.
To this day, every four years when the Paralympics is on the telly we take the time to watch it. And although it may not be as commercially successful as the Olympics the stories of each of the athletes have a tendency to be inspiring.
We think back to our own special moment, participating in the history of the Paralympics.
(c) June Perkins