Appearing at the Dive In festival only a week after returning from Rio, Ellie Simmonds OBE and Libby Clegg spoke about their success at the Paralympics and their take on disabilities.
Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of the British Paralympic Association, and Claire Harvey, who captained the GB Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team at London 2012, joined the gold medallists.
After a moving and inspiring video of Channel 4’s “We’re the Superhumans”, sponsored by Allianz, Ellie kicked off the session by describing how she first “dared to believe”.
“I’ve always been very sporty and competitive,” explained Ellie, who has Achondroplasia dwarfism. “I have three sisters and one brother and I always wanted to be better than them. I learned to swim when I was about five and I remember watching the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and asking my Mum how old you had to be to compete.”
At the next Paralympics in Beijing in 2008, Ellie won two gold medals for Great Britain, despite only being 13 years old.
Libby spoke about the first time she was told she had a deteriorating eye condition known as Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy disease. “I was about nine and I had no idea what this would mean for me. I actually thought I was going to be in a wheelchair when they first told me. It was a very negative experience.”
But her parents decided to take her to a local running club, where her competitive nature took over. She returned from Rio this year with two gold medals for the 100m and the 200m.
Tim spoke about the incredible team spirit among the British Paralympians and said he wished everyone could experience what it was like to eat in the dining hall at the Olympic village. “There you have every type of disability you can imagine – trains of blind people holding onto each other, people eating with their feet because they have no hands – and it’s the only place where nobody cares.”
As Libby said: “All disabled people are normal people – they just do things differently.” And it is acceptance of that fact which Tim hopes will be the outcome of the Paralympics.
“Yes, we want to win medals and do well for our country and make people proud,” he admitted. “But the Paralympics are about much more than that. They are part of a movement to challenge perceptions of disability – because that is the real barrier to full inclusion. Through sport, we want to inspire a better world for disabled people.”