Inspirational swimmer urges nation to get behind Games

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AS Paralympic stories go, swimmer Chris Holmes’, of a young man beating the biggest obstacles to claim the greatest rewards, must rank among the most inspirational of all.

Like many 14-year-old boys, Holmes enjoyed taking part in a number of sports and in particular swimming. However, unlike most 14 year olds though, he went to bed one night and woke the following morning to find himself almost totally blind.

What little vision he was left with was later to disappear due to folds in his retinas, at birth, which didn’t stretch as he grew up but instead tore, leaving him completely blind.

However, instead of being defeated by his condition, the youngster found himself in Seoul, South Korea, two years later for the 1988 Paralympics, his first of four between 1985 and 2000, where he would go on to win a bronze and two silver medals.

He would go on to win a total of nine golds, five silvers, and one bronze medal, including six gold medals at the Barcelona Games in 1992, a feat never equalled by any Briton, which would see him further rewarded with an MBE for his services to sport.

Now 40, Holmes in his role as Director of Paralympic Integration, given to him in 2009, has been tasked with ensuring all aspects of the Games integrates the needs of Paralympians as much as it does Olympians.

As well as that, Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer prior to the Beijing 2008 Olympics has undertaken a tour of schools across the United Kingdom, with gold medal in hand, to educate children about Paralympic values.

That tour took in the Priory School, in Bury St Edmunds, and Thurston Community College last month, to help mark 100 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

After speaking to the pupils, Holmes took the time to reveal the importance of his visit as well as urging the nation to be part of a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the spectacle of witnessing inspirational athletes like himself at the Games.

“It is absolutely critical that we use that magic of the Games to inspire people, particularly young people right across the country to choose sport, to follow their dreams and to enable things to happen that wouldn’t had we not won the right to host the Games,” he said.

“There are kids playing Paralympic sports for the first time, learning about Paralympic values and that truly is groundbreaking stuff that will make a huge difference for a lifetime.

“The Games won’t come here again in our lifetime and so the opportunity is there to see great British Paralympians from this region, competing on the world’s greatest stage.

“It is so special to have the games here and we can feel so rightly proud that we created the Paralympic Games in 1948 and that it is coming back here for the first time in 64 years.

“I would encourage everyone to go and get their hands on some tickets and be inspired this summer.

“People need to appreciate that this is the last opportunity to get on to the Olympic Park, the last chance to get inside that stadium.”

Having never experienced competing in front of a home crowd himself, Holmes reflected on the unique privilege that the athletes will experience and backed the current crop to eclipse their 42 gold medal haul from four years ago.

“It will be extraordinarily special for the Great Britain athletes to compete at a home games and for those guys lucky enough to have that, it will just be sensational,” he added.

“To have that support, roaring athletes on to medal success will be amazing.”