Friday 31st August 2012 Blog from Grace Hough
Hello folks, time for my 3rd blog of the games. I am currently watching the T54 women’s 5000m race on the track on TV. The categories may sound baffling, but in essence they are pretty simple. See further down for more on this! The first thing I noticed was that in the background the Games Makers were having trouble securing a throws athlete into his chair with blue straps (catch a glimpse if you can). This is one of our tasks at Mayesbrook Park and, as you might guess, it’s important that you get this right. The last thing an athlete needs is to feel insecure when competing and, of course, if he or she slips when hurling a discus for example then it could fly anywhere!
Thursday was a really busy day. Some of the TeamGB squad appeared for a training session and included in the group was one of the stars, Richard Whitehead, a T42 category, above knee amputee from birth. It was fascinating to watch him remove his “normal” legs, almost as if you or I were simply taking our tracksuits off, and put the blades on. Then his racing spikes went on to the blades. He welcomed our interest and hoped it would raise the profile of Paralympians like himself. The track at Mayesbrook has been filling up nicely with teams from the USA, Mexico, Peru, and Japan, plus assorted others. We’ve had lots of long jumpers in particular, including an impressive blind lady athlete from Japan. She relied on the number of claps from her coach to count her steps to the sandpit. Her perseverance was amazing as it took so many jumps to get one right.
At this point it is probably worth commenting on the language barrier – or more specifically, the lack of one! Our team of Games Makers includes a transport group, security, domestic crew, drivers, and us the athletic crew. Our team leader is Spanish, one of the team can speak French and another Russian. The transport crew comprise of a Brazilian (so Portuguese speaking, although he speaks Spanish too) Polish, and a Geordie! The Security guys are a mix of Pakistani, Turkish, Egyptian and Indian. Plus the universal language of pointing at implements, lots of laughing and having fun. So we all eventually understand each other, no matter where everyone comes from (and that includes the Geordie!). It’s an honour to be here and I am so enjoying it.
The classification categories can sound complicated, but I will try and explain as best as I can. It is probably worth remembering that if you watch the games on TV try and follow the Lexi system on screen it is a very good guide.
For athletics there are 2 main groups T (track) and F (field). After the letter there is a number;
1 Visually impaired 2 Intellectual impairment
3 Cerebral Palsy (CP) 4 Amputee
5 Wheelchair track and seated throwers
The second number gives an indication of the level of impairment. The lower then number, means the higher the level of impairment.
T/F 11 effectively blind and needs a guide
T/F 12 partially sighted and can have a guide
T/F 13 partially sighted
T/F20 Intellectual impairment. Only one class
T/F32-34 CP competing in a wheelchair or seated throws
T/F35-38 CP competing as ambulant athletes
F40 Dwarf athletes with achondroplasia (throwers only)
T/F 42 double leg amputee above the knee
T/F 43 double leg amputee below the knee
T/F 44 single leg amputee
T/F 45 double arm amputee
T/F46 single arm amputee
All competing as ambulant (running) athletes
T51-T54 Decreasing levels of impairment in wheelchairs
T51-T58 Decreasing level of impairment from no movement of lower limbs and little movement of upper limbs, through to good hand and arm movement and control and some strength in one of upper limbs, through to good hand and arm movement and control and some strength in one of or both legs, but inability to compete standing up (competing in seated throws).
So, whew!! you can see it is a complicated affair to get the level of assistance right, and diplomacy and tact are of the utmost importance. At this stage the learning curve is not so high and athletes and volunteers are enjoying the opportunity of a lifetime.
Anyway, I will have to finish my blog for today as I am on an afternoon session. While writing the blog I have been watching the athletics on the telly. I am so excited as the athletes I see running are those I have met on the my daily shifts. Such an amazing feeling and only now do I feel part of the Games.
Bye for now. Grace