I was with my friend and fellow 'Get a Life! trustee Duncan Raban, the talented photographer who recently featured my story in The Sun.
If you read this article as part of Duncan's fantastic feature 'Duncan's People', you will already be aware of this man's incredible warm and generous heart, and also of his wonderfully inquisitive spirit, where he simply wants to spread happiness and positivity around the world- by simply taking the time and effort to say 'hello' to everybody he meets!
With Duncan and I were my husband Garry, and Duncan's son and partner in crime Tom; along with another friend of Duncan's who is a fellow photo journalist. Our fabulous motley crew assembled, we took off to document the journey faced by myself as a wheelchair user to attend the games- ( but that's a whole other story!) and after arriving in East London in true Duncan Raban style, with camera frantically clicking and smile beaming- we were then fortunate enough to go on to meet some truly fantastic characters; all with such incredibly inspiring stories- and these were just the spectators!
With the day commencing by the world demonstrating it's surprising small nature- after Duncan bumped into a former Great Ormand Street patient and her family he had photographed over three years previously- we took about the joyous task of meeting with, and chatting to spectators, competitors and officials alike.
Although everyone we met was just so incredibly happy and thrilled to be at the games, (especially the AMAZING Games Makers, who I once again have to big up and 'shout out' to- as these people are simply FANTASTIC! Where did they find these people? We need to take them and clone them to make this world a better place! They are just the happiest and most generous people in the land! THANK YOU all!)- probably my most treasured moment was meeting a wonderful little girl who we saw whizzing around the outside courtyard in her funky coloured manual chair, complete with snazzy multicoloured snake design on the wheels!
This you may say, is not all that incredible in itself; but when on closer inspection we learnt that this gorgeous little lady had lost not only her legs, but both her hands as well to meningitis only a year ago- we were all the more blown away!
This little girl's smile was so incredibly infectious, we all beamed in awe as we watched her race her able-bodied older brother around in the sunshine!
After meeting and introducing ourselves, and Duncan performing his obligatory 'red carpet routine'- (Duncan carries around- or more accurately gets his long suffering son Tom to carry around, 10ft of red carpet almost everywhere he goes!), the little girl was soon chatting away to me, comparing cool bits of our wheelchairs and talking about her stuffed animals attached to her own chair- a feature that was so cool, I am now keen to replicate myself!
This little girl's parents could not have been more 'normal', they were not the ethereal superhuman's that some people naively expect the parents of disabled children to be. They could have simply been your next door neighbours, your cousins, your friends. They could have been you!
These were parents just living a 'normal' life. They had two wonderfully funny, active and happy children until illness struck out of nowhere to rob them of their beautiful little girl's right to a life with limbs.
This meeting with this beautiful family only went to reiterate my much stressed point that...
DISABILITY IS INDISCRIMINATENobody knows what is around the corner, for them or for their loved ones; so supporting a cause such 'Get a Life!'
...where we are creating a tailored infrastructure of psychological care and support, for not only those who become disabled, but also for those whose lives are also directly affected by disability through illness or injury, when their loved ones fall victim to one or other of the above.
I do not repeat this point again and again to scare- but to remind us all that life really is so incredibly special and that every single minute should be treasured and valued.
Having been that person, (possibly even very much like you) without a care in the world, living my stress free life as Virgin Atlantic cabin crew, jetting around the world and relaxing and having fun with friends and family- I have learnt the hard way to value what you have, whatever you have.
I have learnt that there is no point fighting the situation as it simply will not change.
Like swimming against the tide, I used get nowhere. I wasn't moving forward in the direction I wanted to swim in, and would more often than not get dragged back a few metaphorical metres back to somewhere I did not want to be.
I was frustrated, angry and upset- then I noticed that if I let the tide take me in the direction that it was going to carry me anyway; then I could travel more distance without half as much emotional and physical expenditure of energy.
Once I embraced the inevitability that I was going to be carried downstream, only then I could relax and enjoy this fantastic journey- whilst swimming with the current and achieving something a long the way.
The fantastic little girl at The Excel Centre that I met two days ago, wasn't fighting against the tide; instead she was embracing what she had and swimming along with the most infectious smile on her face as she was doing so!
Despite the evident joy on her daughter's face, knowing of my own parents' pain when I became disabled; I could not help but watch her mum as she looked on at her daughter racing her brother on both lefts and wonder just what she was thinking?
Had she been given the support she deserved? Had she been given tailored support to help her come to terms with the fact that although in many ways more enriched emotionally, her daughter was never going to do many of the things that she had dreamt of and wondered about from the moment she first cradled her daughter in her arms?
Life happens, and we can do nothing to safeguard ourselves from the cruel finger of fate: what we can do, is ensure that there are groups like 'Get A Life!', that are there to pick up the emotional pieces and help people step back and realise what they still have, and help them learn to look at and live their lives in a slightly different way so that they can still live those lives to the full!
The reason that so many parents had taken their disabled children to the games yesterday, was so that they could show them that there is so much out there for them, even with their physical limitations.
The 'Inspire a Generation' tagline of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is one I think is so incredibly wonderful, especially for the Paralympics in particular.
Sixty four years ago when the amazing Ludwig Guttmann began the Paralympic Games at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, to show wounded veterans that the world still had something to offer them- never could he have dreamt that just over half a century later the Paralympic Games would be packing out stadiums and inspiring children with disabilities (such as the beautiful girl I met yesterday), to aspire to competing in them when they get older.
One of the most touching moment's of Wednesday's 24 hours packed full of golden moment's, was when this little girl (who you may be able to tell has completely touched my heart!), was showing me her 'Mandeville' cuddly toy that she had attached to the footplate plate of her wheelchair.
This was her favourite of the three teddy bears she had tied on to her chair and clearly the one she treasured the most.
After challenging me to a race, she went on to win without me even contesting her lead for a moment- (as even if I had wanted to give her a fair race and go full speed, I could not do so, as her cunning big brother had adjusted my speed control, which I then couldn't adjust back to even get me off of the start line by the time the other two had crossed the finish line!)- we waved off this beautiful family, as they left to watch some more sitting volleyball- this gorgeous lady's new favourite sport!
If you have the opportunity I urge you to not only watch the television coverage of the last two days of The Paralympic Games, but if you can- ( especially with the marathon still to come!) go along and be there in person.
Never before had any of us been to a place where we had naturally seen so many disabled people assembled in one place; but most importantly, where so many disabled people felt so free to be themselves- to race in their chairs and to walk or wheel along with their heads held high, not feeling self-conscious in any way for one moment of who they are and what usually defines them in the often cruel outside world.
We are living through a momentous time in history- as we witness the evolution of our species realise that disabled people are equal citizens of this world of ours and have so much to offer this world.
I have the confidence that these Paralympics have not only changed the lives of Peacock, Simmonds and Weir and co.- but also the lives of so many disabled people who's daily lives will be made easier by the barriers that these people have knocked out of the way for us to all follow through.
Paralympians- I salute you all!