My word, but aren't the Paralympic athletes amazing? No disclaimer necessary. They're not amazing, considering they're in wheelchairs. They're not amazing, given that they're running on prosthetic legs. They're just amazing. Incredible. Awe-inspiring.
I'm reliably informed by Adam Hills' helpful #isitok segment on his nighttime show The Last Leg, in which he provides post-game analysis of each day's events, conducts interviews and orchestrates general witty chat, that it's perfectly acceptable to wonder how each of these fantastic athletes came to be Paralympians in the first place: indeed, that the majority would prefer you asked. Clearly, it's no different from asking someone so how did you end up reading Russian at university? or how did you end up working in China? It's part of their identity; an integral and vital aspect of their journey from birth to the present day. And I'm fascinated to read as much information about the athletes as I can, just as I was during the Olympics, and to learn about them not only as elite sportspeople but also as human beings. Okay, I'm pretty nosy, I'll admit.
When I look at people who have achieved success in any field, whether that's sport or writing or music or anything else, I tend to imagine that they've been surrounded by crowds of supporters since the very beginning. This morning at church we sang songs by Keith Getty, a former university classmate of mine who is now a very well-known composer of excellent hymns. The biographical notes at the front of my Getty songbook mention that Keith caught the attention of Sir James Galway as a young musician, which led to opportunities and opened doors for the young musician. Undeniable talent combined with the endorsement of others facilitated that first step onto the ladder, and Getty's worship songs are now famous around the world. Some of us are blessed with mentors or Dead Poets Society-style teachers who inspire us, identify our talent and encourage us until we fulfil our potential, and that's great.
But as I've read more and more of the Paralympians' life stories, it's surprised me to learn just how many of them have been effectively written off as potential athletes at some point during their early lives. Gold medallists of the future have been put in swimming groups with naughty children because their teachers or instructors couldn't think what else to do with them. Wheelchair racers have been told that they'll never succeed at anything. Last month I read about a one-armed pianist who recently graduated from the Royal College of Music, and who was told as a teenager that he ought not to waste his time or that of other people by pursuing his dream of auditioning at a school for young piano players. And if it wasn't for supportive families and sheer furious determination, how many of these stars might have given up and wasted their talent? Yet there are so many astonishing athletes competing at this very moment in the Paralympic Games, some of whom have disregarded the opinions of others and gone on to achieve success that is almost beyond belief.
The writer Madeleine L'Engle once said I knew that the moment I started worrying about whether or not I was good enough for the job, I wouldn't be able to do it. It's hard enough to believe in yourself when you experience self-doubt of your own making, let alone when others are fuelling it into the bargain. Lack of confidence can do an insidiously effective job of destroying possibilities and potential achievements and creativity and ambition. And it shouldn't. Isn't it amazing - and, at the same time, almost tragic - that so many of us are held back by low self-esteem: by the quiet but powerful voice at our shoulder, whispering you're not enough?
Because sometimes it isn't lack of ability or talent or even the ideal equipment that holds us back. Sometimes it's just lack of confidence and belief. And this is why I consider the Paralympians to be doubly amazing. They are all out there achieving incredible things by anyone's standards. But some of them are simultaneously proving their detractors to have been absolutely and laughably wrong, when it would have been so very easy to accept the restrictions and limitations imposed on them by others. They've refused to do so. How absurd it must seem now to imagine that their achievements were ever in doubt, yet they were. But doubt has been cast aside, thrown out and dismissed, and replaced with the steel and self-discipline and tenacity necessary to propel each of those athletes towards the top of their field and straight to the Paralympics.
And whether or not they leave London with a medal, the attitudes and achievements of each and every one are truly inspiring, bringing my own fears about not being enough into harsh and much-needed perspective.