The inspiration porn debate creates important matters about the Paralympics. But when I go into schools I want people to see the competitor , not the disability
My business, some “ve said”, is steeped in the concept of inspiration porn. I go into schools, speaking to pupils about my Paralympic story with the explicit aim to inspire and motivate I won bronze in 1996, and a bronze and a silver in 2000. However, the current debate around inspiration and what it means within the context of disability has given me pause for think perhaps it is not always the best style to accurately describe the experience of disability.
As a former Paralympic swimmer for Australia, I have been watching Channel 4s coverage , not to be inspired, but to cheer on the Aussie team( and Team GB, of course ): to watch the hope, the frustration, the pleasure and the despair, to feel lightnes and sadness, exhilaration and frustration. This whirlwind of emotions seems synonymous with the Paralympics, that idea of hope in overcoming the odds, the narratives that may be sad, tragic, and moving. But are those same emotions not also synonymous with the Olympics?
Simone Biles comes to mind one of the most inspirational narratives from this years Games. There were two particular things that were mentioned with regards to her backstory: she is a black gymnast in an overwhelmingly white athletic, and she is adopted. This became a part of her myth, raising her to the most inspirational gold medal. Then there were inspirational moments, such as the moment when the US athlete Abbey DAgostino fell in a womens 5000 m heat. Nikki Hamblin, a New Zealand runner, helped DAgostino up, and they finished the race together. Even I teared up reading about this show of sportsmanship.
Even that was topped by the Refugee Olympic Team. They were not admired as the medal heroes of the games, or for the ease with which they violated world records; they are looked at with a mix of awe and pity. Their stories of fleeing war-torn countries, of terror and dread, eclipse their sporting prowess, just as the disability of Paralympians comes first, then their identity as upper-class athletes.