|Phil Craven lost the use of his legs in 1966, aged only 16, in a rock-climbing accident. Just days later he caught sight of a team of wheelchair basketball players, and his life changed again.|
Since then he has lived, not as a wheelchair-bound disabled man, but as a world-class sportsman, competing five times in the Paralympic Games. A former captain of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team, he is now the president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
With a fantastically successful sporting career behind him, and his current fulfilling life, he wants to change things so that others can enjoy life as much.
'If something's wrong in the world, that's a reason to change it,' he says. 'I am an activist, a revolutionary.'
Able-bodied people often unintentionally, and without malice, deny people with disabilities the freedom that they themselves enjoy by right, Phil says.
'Access problems for the disabled are out of sight and therefore out of mind,' he says. 'Education is required to replace ignorance.'
'The people of Athens, where the next Paralympic and Olympic Games will take place, are having to make a lot of changes to make access possible. At the moment you can't get down some of Athens' streets in a wheelchair because the cars are parked up so high on the pavement.
'Athenian car drivers are not against people in wheelchairs or the partially sighted, but until recently they have never been told what is required of them. There is a great need to raise awareness. Otherwise the city authorities in Athens will build wheelchair access ramps and people will continue to park in front of them.'
The IPC sees this as a key part of its work. Phil says: 'The aim is to inspire and excite the world: to effect change in practical surroundings, in attitudes towards people with disabilities and in the attitudes of people around the world. We must reconfigure assumptions and expectations.
'People with disabilities are just as capable of being top-class athletes; they are fully capable, responsible and ambitious people. It is important that ALL people are allowed to live life to the full, to appreciate nature, or to do something as simple as go on a walk in the country.'
Paralympic sport has brought improved attitudes and opportunities for people with disabilities in all aspects of life, he explains.
'We know that two hours of Paralympic sports from Athens every night on British television puts Paralympic athletes in the public eye, and we're jolly glad about that,' he says. 'We're also very pleased that through the IPC's agreement with the International Olympic Committee, bidding cities for future Olympic/Paralympic Games have to prove that an environmentally friendly city will await Paralympic athletes when they compete in the Games. Ensuring easy access at Games venues, city buildings and transport facilities will be a key environmental legacy that will benefit people with a disability for years to come.'
He adds: 'The Games attract millions of participants and supporters, male and female, young and old; so educating people through sport is a key role for them. The resources that are pumped into the city and country of the Games present tremendous opportunities to leave behind important environmental legacies. That potentially can be both good and bad: we have to harness this energy to make sure what we leave behind is beneficial to future generations.
'This world of ours can either get better or it can get worse. What are we closest to? It's got to be the ground that we live on. And what do people cherish most? Water, food and their homes.
'Caring for the environment is incredibly important. We can't just think about people right here, we've got to think about people 15 kilometres down the road. The Paralympics is about maximizing what you've got. We can effect change so that all people can do that.'
Paralympians, like Phil, are inspirational. It takes something extraordinary to become an athlete - to find that level of commitment, to train so regularly and so hard. It takes similar strength to overcome things that could hold you back because of a disability. The example of the Paralympians can inspire their fellow citizens to look outside the box of their own lives, and their - and particularly other people's - environments, even further than 15 kilometres away.
|<< Back: Champions' Wreath|
Tunza 1 - Bernard Lama Tunza 2 - Lance Armstrong Tunza 3 - Haile Gebreselassie International Paralympic Committee Great Britain wheelchair basketball International Olympic Committee PDF Version