Paralympic sport – not just for the champions

TeamGB at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Games. Picture: Caroline Granycome (CC)

Opening ceremony of the 2012 London Games. Picture: Caroline Granycome

Welsh para-athletes are preparing for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Disability Sport Wales based in Cardiff is responsible to select and support them. The organisation is not just looking for the next champion, but aims to promote sport among disabled people in Wales.

Paralympic athletes are training hard at the Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff. A necessary step if they want to succeed in qualifying for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this September.

“As an athlete you always look forward to what you can accomplish next, and where you’re chosen path may lead you,” said Nathan Stephens, the former javelin and discus world champion after being appointed talent officer for Disability Sports Wales (DSW). He is an example of what sport can lead to. When he was 9 years old, he lost both his legs, but this event has not stopped him from experiencing different sports and achieving personal and professional successes. Now, when is not looking for a new generation of athletes, he is training for being part of the national team at Rio 2016.

Nathan Stephens. Photo: Francesco Ugolini

Nathan Stephens: “Hunger and determination have been decisive.” Photo: CNP

Stephens is part of a team of paid and volunteer professionals, who work in different parts of Wales, and who are responsible to run the Academy Programme, an initiative aimed at supporting selected athletes in all the aspects of their training, from coaching to consultancy. In the 2012 London Games, the programme has assisted 24 of the 38 Welsh athletes and had a major role in bringing 14 medals to Wales, amongst them two golds in athletics and one in cycling. The organisation is currently working to improve the past records and to increase its presence in Wales.

This is just a piece of the puzzle. The ultimate goal of the Cardiff-based organisation is to create a “nation of disabled champions” by promoting physical activity amongst the 600,000 Welsh (or the 19 per cent of the population) with disabilities, according to the 2013/2014 Family Resources Survey. DSW has built a network of more than 750 clubs and sessions in the last ten years, where people can choose from different sports and activities, and be supported by coaches and volunteers.

With more visibility and a growing participation in sport, new people and funds are required to support the different activities undertaken by the organisation. Since Beijing 2008 people have become more interested in Paralympic Games. For Disability Sport Wales setting a new mark in Rio 2016 may be important to promote new initiatives and a better awareness on sport opportunities for disabled people.

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