The Paralympic Games’ motto was ‘inspire a generation’ and people like Jessica-Jane Applegate and Aaron Moores could help to do just that for youngsters with learning disabilities, writes Dan Parton (12th September 2012).
The beaming smile said it all as teenager Jessica-Jane Applegate posed for pictures with her gold medal, won in the 200m freestyle swimming at the Paralympics. When interviewed on Channel 4, she said: “I am ecstatic. I didn’t think I could do something like that.”
But she had done it. After qualifying fastest for the final, Applegate, who has Asberger’s syndrome, stormed through from third at the final turn to win and become the first – and only – British person with a learning disability to take gold at the London 2012 Games.
Following in her wake was Aaron Moores, who took a silver medal in the S14 men’s 100m backstroke. They both demonstrated what can be achieved with hard work and dedication, as did the other 7 competitors with learning disabilities who competed at the Games.
Their success, along with the 100 or so other British Paralympians who won medals at the Games, will hopefully inspire hundreds – if not thousands – of youngsters with learning disabilities to take up sport.
But, if that interest has to be built on, we need to ensure that one of the legacies of the Olympics and Paralympics is that people with learning disabilities are given more opportunities to take part in sport.
There are many ways that people with learning disabilities can get involved in sport, with organisations such as Special Olympics Great Britain offering training and competition for all ages and abilities across the country.
But mainstream clubs and organisations should be open to people with learning disabilities, as well. This isn’t always the case at the moment, and ensuring that it is will demand additional work, for example, through specialist training coaches or the provision of better education about learning disabilities.
The benefits of sporting activity for physical and mental health are well known and getting more people with learning disabilities involved – the young and the not-so-young – can only be a good thing.
While the London 2012 Paralympics only had a limited number of events for people with learning disabilities – this was the first Games since 2000 to include them – there will hopefully be more events in the programme for Rio in 2016, which will showcase the talents of more athletes with learning disabilities, and inspire even more of those at home.
Who knows, maybe someone with learning disabilities, sitting watching Applegate win gold, will be inspired to take up sport and will be doing something similar in Rio? There’s no reason why not.