Let the Games Begin - Zach Abbott
Chills. That is the only way to describe what and how I felt as I entered the Olympic Stadium the first time for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. We waited for what seemed to be a couple of hours just to get the chance to enter the stadium for the parade of nations, and I'll be honest, while there were moments of excitement in that wait, most of it was incredibly dull and annoying.
But all of that went out the window the moment I went under the stadium and could see out into it. 80,000 people cheering for us, the Paralympians. And they weren't cheering for us as pitiable charity cases, the 'poor disabled kids.' No, they were cheering for us as elite athletes, giving us the respect we've fought for years to earn. Making us feel equivalent to our Olympic counterparts, as the name of our event implies we are supposed to be. The Paralympic Games are to be a parallel level of competition to the Olympics, hence the Paralympics. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I was in a place where people felt that way other than the competitors themselves. I had made it to the Paralympics where the crowd matched my dreams. The first to sell out in history. And all of those feelings came in that one moment of entering the stadium, all those thoughts through my mind, condensed together in the form of the most amazing chilling feeling I've ever known.
And then that same chill came again not long after. As the US team was nearing the finish of their lap around the stadium, you could tell the very instant the British team entered the arena. The crowd, already loud, went to maximum volume. Explosions went off. The crowd got louder. Then you could barely hear the announcer shouting the introduction for the home team. What had already finally started to feel real almost went to being a dream again. Hearing the crowd at that volume, as it will be when I race the British athletes, it was unreal, unlike anything I've ever experienced. The only thing that kept me grounded was knowing I was seeing it and experiencing it myself. Not just imagining it or watching it online. I am here. This is happening. I knew in that moment what I had thought I was sure of before. I am ready.
As if I wasn't already caught up in the moment, the ceremony was narrated by reknowned physicist Stephen Hawking and a large part of it contained equally reknowned actor Sir Ian McKellen, or as I like to call him, Gandalf. Seeing people of their celebrity status show us the respect of taking such a large part in this event only added to the atmosphere, the grandeur of it all. And then, after they were introduced in their individual capacities for the ceremony, we were treated to quite the show, even if it had its stranger moments. Athletes of different disciplines "ran" or "pushed" towards the center of the stadium, in the air, suspended by wires. A wheelchair tennis player, a wheelchair racer, a javelin thrower, a swimmer, an amputee runner, and a couple more I'm likely forgetting. It was a sight to see. Then the torch lighting ceremony came, with an amputee British 2016 Games hopeful being flown in over the stadium and down to the floor on wires carrying the flame in, to hand it off to a blind football (soccer) player on the current British team, finally to go to Britain's first Paralympic gold medalist ever from the 1960 Games in Rome. It was the perfect ending for the lighting of the torch in this, the Paralympic Games 'homecoming' of sorts. I won't post all that here, as it will take too long, but feel free to look it up yourself. It's a history worth knowing.
And now here I am, one day from the start of the track events, and three days from my first event. I cannot wait to enter that stadium again before I race, to watch how they respond to the other competition in it, not that I expect anything but the best. I want to be part of that. To embrace that energy from my crowd. It will fuel me through my races, and hopefully drive me to new bests and a few surprises. As the Queen said last night, let the Games begin.