Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

What an Olympian zest for life

Proving his mettle: Michael McKillop and his mum at the Paralympics awards ceremony

When my sister had just turned 17 she had her leg amputated. She died a little under a year after that.

In those months I learned a whole lot about how people deal with what is termed a disability - and how others react to disabilities.

Often, even people who are tremendously well-intentioned don't know how to deal with "the disabled". And often it's because society tends to regard "the disabled" as people different and distant from the rest of us.

They're not. They're just the same as the ordinary rest of us. Even those extraordinary athletes who are thrilling all our hearts at the spectacular Paralympics this year.

What sets these people apart isn't an arm missing, or a sight impairment, an injury or a condition. It's the dedication and commitment which, in common with all great athletes, raises them to such heights. Their own dedication and the dedication of their parents and coaches.

Our local trio of gold winners - Jason Smyth (our own Usain), Michael McKillop and the lovely young Bethany Firth, only 16 years old, have done us magnificently, lump-in-the-throat proud. Their triumph is not just in achieving the extraordinary. It's been in underlining the ordinary.

Disabled people don't want to be pitied or patronised. They want a level playing field and a fair crack at all the things all the rest of us take for granted.

My young sister lost her leg. But she never lost her sense of humour or her zest for life or her determination to be "the same". She would have cheered you all the way, Bethany, Jason and Michael.

She didn't get to finish her race.

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