The Big Read (Paralympics)

Ade Adepitan: We've come a long way in a short time

ade_22-09-11Over the last few weeks I've started to feel really bruised from pinching myself constantly just to check that I haven't been dreaming. Since the end of August the Paralympics have literally exploded into the public arena.

There has been all the controversy surrounding Oscar Pistorius running at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu. I can't imagine what the publicity will be like when he competes in 2012 at the Para's and the Olympics. The funniest thing that I've heard in opposition to his inclusion was that he shouldn't be allowed to run because his blades created an unduly large carbon footprint, which could affect London's attempt to put on the greenest Games in history. You've got to love the British sense of humour.

Then there was International Paralympic Day, the launch of Paralympic tickets and Sainsbury's Super Saturday all in a row. All of this makes me think the Paralympics have come a long way in the last twenty-five years.

As a young boy growing up in East London I didn't know the Paralympics existed until I was about fourteen. I always dreamt of playing football for England. I would be the first disabled man to play for England and I'd run the midfield with an iron foot. Well, I did wear callipers made from some sort of metal at the time and I'm sure they would have been great for tackling. I blame my delusions on Um Bongo; that sunny, funny tropical fruit drink that they sold to children in the eighties that made you think and do strange things.

When I was about 17, a group of us used to scrimmage at Little Ilford School in East London every Thursday night. It was at a youth club and most of the able-bodied kids played pool, table tennis or messed about with the computers.

A hardcore group of us all in wheelchairs used to take over the sports hall and play some intense basketball. The matches always became heated and there was usually a big argument at the end over players not calling fouls, which would get close to a full-on fight. Most of the time we made up at the end and conversation soon changed from bragging about our skills on the basketball court to talking about how cool it would be if we could get big crowds to come to our club matches. I even remember saying, "It would be awesome if disabled athletes could get big sponsors."

We also spoke about how good we could become if we played full time and got given the same respect as able-bodied athletes. But I don't think any of us really believed that Paralympic sport would reach that point.

Twenty years later, everything has changed and Paralympic sport is well and truly in the spotlight with Channel 4 as the host broadcaster and giving it more coverage than ever before.

Although I believe we still have some work to do to increase the profile of Paralympic athletes, we are in a very exciting place. We are at a crossroads if you like but if we can capitalise on the growing interest surrounding Paralympic sport, 2012 could leave us all with a very profound legacy indeed.

Ade Adepitan is a Paralympic wheelchair bronze medallist for Great Britain and lead presenter of Channel 4's most recent Paralympic programme "That Paralympic Show", which can be seen on Channel 4 Saturdays at 1.25pm. Channel 4 is the host broadcaster for the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Julie O’Neill: Looking forward to London 2012 USA is focussed on the podium

Julie_ONeill_thumb130_One year from today (September 8), the Paralympic sports world will be celebrating the eve of the Closing Ceremony for the London 2012 Games.

There are so many scenarios that may play out for athletes, coaches, teams and nations during the 10 days of Paralympic competition in London. All too often, predictions and forecasts of performance are over-simplified and the most critical component – preparation – is overlooked or not given the emphasis it deserves.

Team USA is focusing on being prepared for the podium in London, with an emphasis on top performances in key international competitions, such as the 2011 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships which start this week in Roskilde, Denmark.

Additional preparation for team selections and trials events are well underway, as is planning for pre-Games training camps, to be held in the UK or elsewhere in Europe in the days leading up to the 2012 Opening Ceremonies next August.

Finally, Team USA will ensure that coaches and team managers are informed of critical logistics details, encompassing everything from the village and venues to travel and uniforms.

Planning, strategy and organisation are all key components of Team USA being poised to have exceptional performances on the field of play during the London 2012 Games and beyond.

As someone very wise once told me, preparation will take you across the finish line far ahead of those without it.

Julie O'Neill is a team leader of Paralympic sport performance at the United States Olympic Committee.

Oscar Pistorius: London 2012 will be the greatest Paralympics ever

Oscar_Pistorius_in_BT_tee-shirtToday is a very special day for everyone involved in Paralympic sport and it is particularly exciting that this year's International Paralympic Day is being held in London for the very first time.

In less than 12 months, my fellow Paralympians and I will be battling it out for Paralympic glory and I believe that London 2012 will be the greatest Paralympic Games in history.

Every year Paralympic athletes push the boundaries of their sports and if that continues, as I fully expect it to, next year's Games will be truly remarkable.

Ahead of competing at the BT Paralympic World Cup, I was lucky enough to visit the Olympic Stadium and while it was impressive to walk around the stadium before it was even finished, the thought of performing in front of thousands of people on race day gives me chills down my spine.

From a personal point of view, I am aiming to build on what I achieved in Beijing in 2008 where I won three gold medals and next year I hope to add a further gold in the 4x100m relay. I have no doubt that this will be a massive challenge especially with incredibly talented athletes such as America's Jerome Singleton pushing me every step of the way.

After all the build-up and preparations, by the time the Games come round, I will be more than ready to get performing and I hope as many people as possible will be able to join me in the Olympic Park- don't forget to apply for your tickets!

Oscar Pistorius, a four-time Paralympic champion, is a BT Ambassador. BT is the official communications service partner for the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. For more details click here

Chris Holmes: There is a buzz in the air with One Year to Go until 2012 Paralympics

Chris_Holmes_head_and_shouldersThere's a fantastic buzz in the air at the moment.

It's now exactly One Year to Go until the start of the Paralympic Games and I can really feel that everyone is getting excited about the Games coming to London.

The Paralympic Games are the second largest sporting event in the world in scale and size and it's very exciting to think that in exactly 12 months' time, we will be welcoming the superstars of the Paralympic world to come and compete in London.

I can't wait to see them in action and, with Britain being a sport-mad nation, I know that the British public will really get behind our Paralympic athletes. The GB team came second in the medals table in Beijing, which is a fantastic position to head into in a home Games.

As a former Paralympian, I know what GB athletes must be thinking and going through at the moment. Over the next 12 months, their complete focus will be on training and preparation for the Games, getting ready for that one moment in the summer of 2012 when they will need to pull out the performance of their lives.

I, for one, can't wait to experience world-class performance in world class venues across our city.

It's going to be an extraordinary summer of sport and with the Paralympic Games; the public has a chance to see sport like never before.

The Paralympic Games will offer unique passion, drama and emotion and quite simply, they can't be missed. Tickets go on sale on Septembe 9 until 26, so don't miss your opportunity to apply for a piece of history.

To find out more click here.

Chris Holmes is the Director of Paralympic Integration for the London 2012 Organising Committee. He won nine Paralympic gold medals at four Paralympic Games including six at Barcelona in 1992, a feat never equalled by another British Paralympian. He was awarded an MBE for services to British sport in 1992. He is also a Patron of "Help for Heroes'"and a Patron of the British Paralympic Association (BPA)

Tom Degun: If it is good enough for the authorities, then Pistorius should be allowed to compete in able-bodied competition

The debate has been rather quiet for nearly two years now but it suddenly burst back open last month as Oscar Pistorius ran the 400 metres in a time of 45.07sec in a race in Lignano in Italy.

The significance of the time was that it meant the double leg amputee from South Africa, competing with the carbon fibre legs he runs on, had surpassed the A standard time of 45.25 which he needed to qualify for the South African team that will compete at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu later this month.

Since that day, South Africa has named the 24-year-old as its only 400m runner for the event and we find ourselves with the same question: "Should the 'Blade Runner' be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes?"

The question itself dates back to 2007 when Pistorius took part in his first international competition for able-bodied athletes and began to draw complaints that artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage over his rivals.

The same year, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its competition rules to ban the use of "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device."

The organisation rather bizarrely claimed that the amendment was not specifically aimed at Pistorius but they officially ruled on January 14, 2008 that the South African was ineligible for competitions conducted under its rules, including that year's Olympics in Beijing, following a series of scientific tests.

A battle followed as Pistorius employed the services of law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf to challenge the ruling and travelled to America to take part in a further series of scientific tests carried out at Rice University in Houston.

An appeal against the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) took place in Lausanne in Switzerland and after a two-day hearing which concluded on May 18, 2008, CAS upheld Pistorius' appeal and the IAAF Council decision was revoked with immediate effect.

It was concluded that "not enough is known scientifically to be able to prove that Mr Pistorius obtains an unfair advantage from the use of prosthetics."

The IAAF President Lamine Diack was one of the first to welcome the move stating he is happy to see Pistorius compete.

"Oscar will be welcomed wherever he competes this summer," said Diack.

"He is an inspirational man and we look forward to admiring his achievements in the future."

The debate soon died down as for two years, Pistorius was no real threat to the top able-bodied stars.

Oscar Pistorius crossing the line ahead of rivals
He missed out on qualification for the Beijing 2008 Olympics and although he won three Paralympic gold medals in China, his winning time of 47.49 at the Paralympics was a symbolic mile behind the 43.75 American LaShawn Merritt ran to win the Olympic race.

Pistorius got gradually better in 2009 and again in 2010 but by this time the A standard time for the World Championships and Olympics had been set at 45.25, a time seemingly out of reach for the South African.

But on that night in Italy, the cat was right back among the pigeons as the South African ran a time not only good enough to qualify him for the World Championships and probably the London 2012 Olympics, but a time good enough to earn him fifth place in the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

At 24 years old, that time is only going to get faster meaning that Pistorius is now not only a potential Olympian, but a potential threat at the Olympics. This, more than anything else, has created problems.

Former British 400m star and Olympic silver medallist Roger Black has been particularly vocal on the issue.

"He was running okay times for the past few years but he was never going to challenge the best in the world and as long as he was doing that, it was fine," said Black.

"But now he is moving into territory which is starting to get interesting.

"If he gets down to 44.5 seconds, then it changes the whole discussion because nobody knows whether his blades are an advantage or not.

"They have not been around long enough.

"We don't know if Oscar is an amazing athlete, or a very good athlete with an advantage.

"What if a kid comes along with the talent of [world record holder] Michael Johnson but has an accident and then runs 41 seconds?"

"This is a whole grey area.

"I can only imagine how I would feel if I raced against him in the Olympics and he beat me.

"Now he is a real threat and a real player on the world stage, other athletes will say that it is unfair."

The argument here is that Pistorius is now a problem because he has shown he is now good enough to run times to challenge the elite.

Such an argument must be flawed and instead of asking what is making Pistorius so fast, perhaps it is best to ask how impressive it is that this athlete can continue to produce such impressive times with no legs?

Imagine the effort it takes to learn to walk with prosthetics, much less run and sprint at a world-class level.

This man is the very definition of disabled as he has no legs, yet is being questioned rather than praised for overcoming seeming insurmountable odds.

It is difficult not to feel sorry for someone who faces criticism for simply being the best he can be and someone who has to defend himself every time he runs his fastest race.

Having known Pistorius for a number of years, I am always astounded by the manner he conducts himself and the way he patiently argues his case when he is inevitably asked that same question again and again.

He will point to the scientific evidence that was strong enough to have CAS overturn the IAAF decision and he will politely state that the basis of his triumph is athletic ability rather than two plastic legs.

Perhaps the best comment I have heard on the subject comes from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven.

"There are very few athletes who have the capabilities to compete in both the Olympic and the Paralympics," Sir Philip told me when we spoke not too long ago.

"It is an extremely difficult task even for those top Paralympic athletes but it is all about personal choice and it is up to the individual athlete to decide what they want to do.

"I have no problem at all with athletes such as Oscar wanting to compete at the Olympics and if it can help break down the barriers between the able-bodied and the disabled, then that is fantastic."

Jason_Smyth_Ireland_paralympian_11-08-11Pistorius is not actually alone in his quest as double Paralympic sprint champion Jason Smyth (pictured) has been named in the 17-strong Ireland team that will compete at the World Championships in Daegu.

The 24-year-old visually-impaired sprinter from Derry in Northern Ireland will compete in his specialist event the 100m and just like the Blade Runner, he will have his critics.

Perhaps this is rather harsh when a blind man and a man with no legs prove they are legitimately as fast as the world's elite able-bodied athletes, but so be it.

Smyth's case is a little more straightforward than that of Pistorius but the fact is when it comes to the South African, we may never really know if he does actually have an unfair advantage.

The only way to find out would be cutting the kegs off all the sprinters out there and seeing if they get faster on blades.

That is a trade I'm sure none of them would want to make but I'm sure Pistorius would love the reverse scenario for himself.

For my money, I feel the only advantage Pistorius' disability has afforded him is the relentless drive and desire needed to approach the accomplishments of his able-bodied peers.

But the simple fact is that Pistorius IS allowed to compete in able-bodied event and he will continue to do so until further notice.

And if it is good enough for the authorities, then Oscar Pistorius should be allowed to compete in able-bodied competition.

Should Oscar Pistorius be allowed to compete in able-bodied competition? Vote here.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insideworldparasport. To follw him on Twitter click here

Danny Crates: Cadbury chocolate got me through my darkest hour and over the finish line

Danny_Crates_Headshot_15-06-11The last day of the ride was actually probably the darkest and most difficult one of the whole nine days for me. Coming out of pit-stop 1, I hit a really black spot in my mind and I could not concentrate at all. I remember really clearly that there were woods on either side of the road but I was so tired I was struggling to control my bike.

Next came one of my favourite and clearest memories, and one that I think will stay with me forever.

Just before Bodmin I was really struggling and had just about managed a big climb, then, just as I approached the top of the hill, I could see the Cadbury's guys, who were standing by the road handing out chocolate bars. At that moment I knew all would be OK, I could have kissed them!

Between pit-stop 1 and 2 there were plenty of annoying cattle grids, but I was too tired to get off my bike as I had done in Scotland, so I just rode straight over them. Then, at pit-stop 2, we were told there were only 39 miles to go. On the ride you get so used to hearing big numbers about the mileage that 39 miles sounded like nothing at all to me, even though it was easily another three hours ride. For the last part I did what I'd done pretty much the whole way down: I rode with my neighbour Chris Spooner, and Chris Moore from Adecco, and we just plodded on, and tried to laugh our way up the hills, which is what I think most people will remember us for. I am not sure side-splitting laughter helps you up a hill, but it sure took our minds off of it.

With 17 miles to go, we had one final stop to prepare ourselves for the biggest climb of the entire journey, a 16 per cent incline that seemed to go on for miles. I had promised myself that I would not get off my bike and finally, eventually it seemed, I got to the top. At that point I knew I was nearly at the end.

It was an absolutely magical moment to cross the finish line as a team, and it really felt like we had achieved something amazing. Many of the riders stayed around to welcome one particular rider across the finish line: a guy called Alan, who had cycled the entire 1,000 miles in a hand-cycle. To watch him cross the line was one of the most emotional moments of my life. He had put in such a gutsy performance and, although he is far too modest to admit it, he was an inspiration to many on the Ride.

His performance and my own experience shows that the ethos of the Ride is true: it may not be easy but it is achievable. I'd recommend the Ride to anyone, it was a genuinely a life-changing experience.

Danny Crates and members of the Cadbury staff took part in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. To celebrate its support of London 2012, in summer 2010 Cadbury launched Cadbury Spots v Stripes, an ambitious programme to get people playing games again. To join in please visit the website here.

Xavier Gonzalez: IPC Swimming European Championships was a great warm-up for London 2012

Xavier GonzalezThe 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Swimming European Championships came to a close on Sunday after an excellent week of competition in Berlin, Germany.

It was our largest European Championships on many levels.

More than 440 swimmers from 36 countries took part, the most ever, and with more than 90 accredited media in attendance it is clear to see that as we edge closer to London 2012 the media's interest in Paralympic Sport is continuing to grow.

As always the stars of the show were the swimmers. In total 59 European records were broken, 31 of which were world records.

Although Ukraine, Great Britain and Spain led the medal table what was most pleasing for me was that 31 out of 36 countries won at least one medal in the German capital.

This, I believe, underlines the breadth of swimming talent that we now have across Europe and bodes well for the strength of the sport in future years.

Another pleasing aspect of last week's event was the fact that every single minute of it was broadcast live via giving billions of people around the world the opportunity to tune in on either their computer or mobile phone.

Judging by the number of tweets we had at @paralympic, the IPC's official twitter account, people all over the world were tuning in. Aside from thousands of tweets from people in Europe, we had supporters from Australia, United States, Japan, Mauritius, Brazil and Canada, amongst others, contacting us to say they were enjoying the action.

Hopefully those who saw the action will now have a taste for more Paralympic swimming.

They don't have long to wait!

I expect the swimming events at next year's Paralympic Games to be one of the must have tickets for London 2012 when they go on-sale on September 9 this year.

Therefore, I'd encourage people to join the one million others who have already signed up for Paralympic Games tickets at so that they do not miss out.

Xavier Gonzalez is the chief executive of the International Paralympic Committee

Jody Cundy: Deloitte RAB 2011 diary - Glasgow to Carlisle Racecourse

Jody_Cundy_in_Sky_Team_kit_16-06-11Well, what a welcome return to the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. When I crossed the line in Land's End last year I didn't think I'd ever be back, but there I was checking in to base camp ready to ride again.

This year it's slightly different though as unfortunately I won't be riding the whole event, as I was away with the GB team racing at the World Cup in Segovia, Spain. With the racing finished, Darren Kenny, David Stone, Helen Scott, Terry Byrne, Jon-Allan Butterworth and I travelled to Glasgow to join the Deloitte RAB riders for the four stages down to Bath.

The initial hurdle I was going to face on day four was going to be, what am I going to ride on?

An odd question considering my office is my bike, however, on the trip back from Spain, mine, David's and Darren's bike didn't make it with us and would be on the next flight to Glasgow. So with an early morning trip to the airport, team coach Chris Furber picked our bikes up. By the time we'd built the bikes and everything was ready everyone had left the start so we packed the bikes into the team van and headed to the first pit stop at Happendon Service station, where we met up with Jon-Allan, Helen and Terry who all had their bikes as they hadn't been in Spain with us. By then, all the other riders from the Deloitte RAB had already ridden 33 miles and were filling up water bottles and taking in essential food for the remainder of the day.

Once we were rolling on the road, our group, all riding in full GB colours, certainly looked impressive and we turned many heads as we passed riders all along the route to Carlisle Racecourse. From the friendly hellos to the keenest riders jumping on the back of the GB train just to say they rode with us, even if for some it was only for a few hundred metres, it was a great atmosphere and as we continued the sun decided to come out. Actually I was caught out and ended the ride with a sun burnt face and panda eyes from where my sunglasses had blocked the sun, not an attractive look!

One of the highlights of the day was as we crossed the border from Scotland to England, mainly because as soon as we crossed this border the road surface markedly improved, turning from a rough bumpy surface to a glass like finish in comparison, much appreciated as it didn't feel as hard to ride fast.

The route down to Carlisle was a relatively flat stage without any hard points, considering this was day four for the 500 or so riders, I can imagine this was a welcome relief. There were some jovial comments about our speed and the fact you could tell it was our first day!

Jody_Cundy_RAB_stage_4_16-06-11The finish to the stage was enjoyable with all GB riders upping the pace, in the process we picked up quite a few other riders who seemed to enjoy the high speed blast into the finish, and shook our hands as we crossed the line and thanked us for the tow.

Once we'd finished it was a quick coffee sat in the sun with the team before heading to the hotel to chill in preparation for stage five.

I'm really enjoying being back on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. Having seen such a positive impact to my times from taking part last year I was really eager to come back and use the ride as part of my preparation for London 2012. To meet so many people who are fundraising for ParalympicsGB is fantastic and the total that has been raised will make a huge difference to the preparations of the British Paralympic team for London 2012.

Happy cycling!

Jody Cundy was born with a deformed foot which was amputated when he was three-years-old. He represented Britain three times in swimming at the Paralympic Games from 1996 to 2004, winning three gold and two bronze medals. He then switched to cycling in 2006, before winning gold at Beijing 2008 to become one of only a handful of athletes that have become Paralympic champions in two different sports. Visit his website here and follow him on twitter.

Danny Crates: Deloitte RAB 2011 diary - John O'Groats to Carlisle

Danny_Crates_Headshot_15-06-11Arriving at John O'Groats was probably more inspiring than I ever thought it would be, and I think it was the same for every rider. Even though you knew there would be 500 riders taking part, you could never imagine the size of the camp and what a huge undertaking it is to put on an event of the scale of Deloitte Ride Across Britain. Everyone was in the same boat, and the weather was glorious; to get weather like that in John O'Groats is pretty unheard of so that just made the perfect start and then, of course, everyone only had one thing on their mind - to ride.

I think everyone was apprehensive at the start, and it was a really weird environment the night before because nobody knew what to do.  Everyone just really wanted the next day to start. Thankfully that evening we had the food to keep us busy and we found out that all the rumours from Deloitte RAB 2010 were true and the food was awesome.

Finally the next day came - the start of the bike ride. I was a bit late getting to the start, in usual style faffing around, as I have done every day here. As they called everyone to get in to the queue, I was still at the back getting my bike out of the rack. But I was meant to be leading it off with fellow Paralympian Sarah Storey, so I had to run up the line to the front trying to put my gloves on at the same time. Heather Hancock from Deloitte shouted "three, two, one, GO" and everyone started to take off. I had to jump on my bike and start pedalling, nearly hit Sarah and in front of the huge queue of 500 people fell off. Ironically, at the time I fell off I was just thinking how I wouldn't want to be the idiot who fell off crossing the start line. I definitely started the Deloitte RAB in style - on the floor.

I don't think anyone could have imagined the scenery on day one, riding up the coast and then dropping down inland. The weather was stunning and we had a great day's riding. Everyone went far too fast, despite all the advice we'd been given, but everyone really enjoyed it. I had a few knee problems on day one, which I wasn't expecting, and that really worried me because there was still so far to go and the last thing I wanted was not to be able to finish, but Sue the physio sorted me out and I started day two feeling much better. We went from the base camp in the Kyle of Sutherland down to Fort William, another amazing day of riding and stunning scenery as we went down past Loch Ness and iconic sights that many of us riders had never been to, and it was incredible to ride alongside them.

It's a fantastic atmosphere on the ride. Everyone is blown away by the support network that's here for us. It's above and beyond what any of us expected and I can't find a thing to complain about, not even the camping. From the Halfords guys looking after the bikes, the team at Threshold running the event and the Deloitte folk supporting us along the way and clapping us in at pit stops, it doesn't matter what you ask for, they'll always go out of their way to help you out.

The camps have been great fun too, with amazing food and a nice place to chill out. A bit of rain has tried to put a dampener on things. We all knew it would rain in Scotland, so no surprise that we finished day two in the rain at Fort William where it chucked it down, and then started day three in the pouring rain to go up Glen Coe on the biggest and toughest day yet - 120 miles. But it didn't matter, and it was actually my easiest day of the ride so far because my knee felt better.  I hooked up with Steve and Chris from Adecco and, with my next door neighbour and training buddy Chris, we formed a group of four to trundle along, whinging our way through the hills but actually really enjoying ourselves, and that's what this ride is all about. I'd always said that was exactly how I wanted to ride it, and coming from me, probably one of the most competitive people in the world, to be quite happy just sitting at the back enjoying it shows what a relaxed event it is. Chris, of course, is outside my tent at 4am waiting to start, like a puppy dog waiting to be taken for a walk, but then by the time I've faffed we don't get going until about half an hour after the start so we enjoy the atmosphere among the riders rather than trying to race off.

Tuesday was supposed to be an easy day, only 104 miles and fairly flat (we've worked out that actually means lots and lots of hills), but it's been my toughest day because of the conditions and the roads were rough to ride on, plus a lot of people were suffering from the big day yesterday and not realising how much that took out of them. Today was just a case of getting 100 miles under the belt to get to the next camp and recover. We've arrived at our first English camp at the racecourse in Carlisle in nicer weather; a fantastic camp and everyone's excited to get started tomorrow and reach the halfway point. It's amazing to think we're almost halfway through already, even though we've ridden for four solid days and done over 400 miles, but it's made do-able by the other riders around you and the staff supporting you, bringing you pork pies and looking after you at pit stops.

I've thought about the end on Sunday in Land's End lots. I think it'll be a massive relief to finish, but also kind of sad. It's one of those experiences that you do in your life and if you're the kind of person to take on these challenges then you don't know what to do with yourself after because you've lived and breathed this for the last year or so in preparation and training for the event, you've got all the kit and put in so many hours, and suddenly we're nearly half way already and it's over before you know it.

I've got to say a massive thanks to anyone who's supported ParalympicsGB, I can't express enough how important this is to us. There's huge expectation on the ParalympicsGB team to do well in London 2012, but that doesn't come free, the athletes need the support to help them prepare as best they can. We're already past £600,000 ($975,000) but there's still five days of riding for us so that means plenty of time for more fundraising so please do show your support and text GOGB12 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 ($8) to ParalympicsGB, or go to my justgiving page here for ParalympicsGB. And importantly, click here to sign up for next year!

Danny Crates is one of Britain's most recognisable Paralympians having won a gold medal in the 800 metres T46 final at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, an event in which he holds the world record. Crates also won a Paralympic bronze medal in the 400m T46 final at the Sydney 2000 Games. In 2008, Crates received the honour of carrying the British flag at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Paralympics. He retired as an athlete at the 2009 London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace and now works as a television presenter

Sarah Storey: Deloitte RAB 2011 diary - Day One: John O Groats to Kyle of Sutherland

sarah_storey_13-06-11It barely seems 12 months since I was writing about today's stage but the contrast in experience couldn't have been further apart as on Saturday we set off in glorious early morning sunshine and a very welcome tailwind!

Deloitte Ride Across Britain 2011 is the second and final time the event will be held before next year's Paralympic Games, as in 2012 the third edition of the ride will take place in September, just as the Paralympic Games is finishing.

As a result, the fundraising effort continued with the same momentum it had in 2010, where the total for the year came in at an impressive £375,000.

With Deloitte's target of raising £1 million over the first four years of the ride for ParalympicsGB, it seems likely and we could hit the impressive £600,000 mark during the ride.

Deloitte has invested heavily in Paralympic sport and the current fundraising target is set with the aim of providing Paralympic athletes selected for London 2012 and beyond, with the best support and preparation opportunities possible.

Starting out at the head of a 600-strong field of riders, with my husband Barney Storey and our fellow Paralympian Danny Crates, we were waved off by many supporters and the occasion was marked with traditional bagpipes as we rode past the official sign which signals the furthest point north in the UK.

This is the point where an End to End record attempt will usually finish, taking advantage of the prevailing south westerly winds, but today we were pleasantly surprised to find the wind coming in from the north and west, so we were quite literally pushed along the north coast of Scotland to Thurso and beyond to the aptly named Bettyhill, one of the few kicks in the road in the first half of the ride.

All along this coast the views were spectacular and there is something very calming about riding alongside the ocean.

With blue skies and sunshine all along the coast it was a truly breathtaking place for a ride and all too soon the road turned inland and it was to be the last time we would see the ocean for a few days.

By this point the rolling terrain had allowed me to ride on ahead of Barney for the first time and we completed the rest of the ride in our own little worlds.

Some people would argue we complete every ride in our own little worlds, but that is a blog for another day!

Although turning away from the coast, we were not losing the amazing scenery and whilst I love the coastline up there, it was the next section of road that was my favourite for the first day.

By this point the route was about half done and I was turning onto a single track road with passing places.

The road winds its way south west and along the banks of the River Naver before coming out on the banks of Loch Naver and quite possibly the view of the day.

The Loch was framed by the surrounding hills and was like a millpond, glistening in the sunshine.

With no one around and only the sounds of the birds to listen to, it really felt like I was the only person there.

All too soon the Loch ended and I turned left and started the ascent to the village of Crask.

It wasn't a steep climb so, using this as an opportunity to do some strength work and keep the gears in the big chain ring, I climbed seated and made the most of the descent on the other side.

By this point the wind was in my face and I used my new handlebar set up to get as low as possible on my Dolan Hercules.

The descent into Lairg was great and before long I was passing the Falls of Shin and then through Invershin to the finish line for the day.

It had been a 170 kilometres journey and I'd completed it in 5 hours and 9 minutes, some 36 minutes faster than last year, largely thanks to better weather conditions and also an improvement in my own cycling efficiency.

This week's ride is not a race, but from an athlete's point of view, being able to do such tough stages and compare the training data from one year to another is extremely valuable and gives some good indications as to the fitness and technical gains that have been made over the previous 12 months.

For me not only was the time quicker, but the average wattage for the ride was down 20 watts on last year to 210 watts for the ride.

It's good to know things are headed in the right direction and it's also great to be able to do such good training alongside all the fundraisers.

Although today I started at the front and didn't get to see anyone all day, tomorrow will be a different story and I'll be starting last and hoping to meet as many people as possible on the course.

Sarah Storey is a swimmer, track and road cyclist, multiple Paralympic gold medal winner and twice British national track champion. Follow her on twitter or visit her fundraising page here.

Charlie Huebner: There is a lot that I will remember from the 2011 Warrior Games

Charlie_Huebner_head_and_shouldersThe second annual Warrior Games presented by Deloitte recently wrapped up at the US Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and our partners, the Department of Defence, USO, Fisher House Foundation, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, BP and Budweiser all had a hand in making the event a complete success.

My favourite question continues to be what do you remember from this year's Games?

I remember this:

One-hundred and ninety-eight members of our Armed Forces, all with different physical disabilities, illnesses or injuries; all of them pursuing a successful rehabilitation and return to active duty or a productive life outside the military.

I remember humble Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta (pictured), a Medal of Honour recipient, spending time with those 198 injured competitors and all the while remembering those he served with and his unit.

I remember General James F. Amos, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and his wife Bonnie.

He came to the event directly from Afghanistan, with a quick half-day stop in Washington, DC, to support the Marine Corps team.

I remember continual appearances by General Martin Dempsey, Admiral James Winnefeld, General William Shelton, General Michael Gould, Vice Admiral Kevin McCoy, General Gary Cheek and General Darryl Williams to name but a few.

They were all motivating, challenging and encouraging.

They were all there - leading.

It was Incredible.

And I remember hearing about a competitor finishing the last two kilometres of a bike ride, after breaking the chain on his hand cycle, by pushing himself forward, with his hands on the concrete.

There was a tremendous show of support and encouragement that all competitors showed this young man.

He also received a standing ovation at the Closing Ceremony.

The Paralympic Movement began more than 60 years ago to assist young men and women that served their nations in the military.

The Warrior Games provide a reminder, not just about those who serve, but about the power of sport.

The power of sport to help people excel.

The power of sport to heal.

The power of sport to inspire.

The success of the Warrior Games is not just the five days at the US Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs.

More importantly, the success of the Warrior Games is the energy and leadership that competitors, staff and generals take back to their communities and installations, to ensure that physical activity opportunities are available for people with physical disabilities in their own communities so that kids with physical disabilities and injured members of our Armed Forces can also excel, inspire and dream.

Charlie Huebner is Chief of Paralympics at the United States Olympic Committee

Josh Cassidy: It was an honour to test drive the London 2012 marathon course

Josh_Cassidy_head_and_shouldersI was honoured to be asked to be the first wheelchair racer to try out the proposed marathon course for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics and I jumped at the opportunity to ensure a safe race for athletes at the Games.

I also took seriously the responsibility to provide a voice for the world's best and give crucial elite athlete feedback on the proposed route.

I was flown in to London especially by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and London 2012 race organisers and set out on a course which will take competitors past many of London's historic sites, including the Queen's residence Buckingham Palace.

Fitting the test event on to my schedule was tight as I was competing in Switzerland the day before the test event.

I had literally just finished the 10,000 metres and posted the second fastest time in the world so far this year in 28 degree heat. I was then selected for random drug testing immediately after the race. Following the test, I hit the shower before going straight from the track to the airport.

I was briefed that same Sunday night by marathon organisers and was on the course start line 7am Monday morning.

The proposed route begins with a two mile loop, then an eight mile loop which athletes circle three times. The finish, at The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, is similar to the Virgin London Marathon finish, which I won in 2010.

The rest of the course is very technical with a lot of turns through the central London roads.

After completing one "examination" circuit in my race chair, I then got in a car with delegates and organisers to drive around the course again, providing feedback.

I told them that the course backdrop will be great for television, following the athletes around many historic landmarks.

However, there were some areas that would be very dangerous for wheelchair racers - sharp turns and bottlenecks in the road - who are travelling at a much greater speed than the runners.

There are also some very rough areas of road or cobblestones that would puncture tires easily - something that could potentially cause great disappointment for the world's elite.

I was very pleased that the delegates and organisers were so attentive and appreciative of my feedback and I am confident that they will make the minor changes I suggested so we can have a great marathon race on September 9, 2012 – the last day of the London Paralympics.

But even with my proposed changes, the course will still be inevitably technical on the narrow winding London roads.

It's going to be a very tough course and the times are going to be slow. It will make for a long and gruelling battle until the end!

But it was just so exciting to just be on the roads which will be the setting for what will be one of the most memorable events of my life.

I am also very glad that the IPC and London 2012 organisers are determined to make their course as suitable as possible.

All concerned will be mindful of the controversial 2011 World Championships Marathon in Christchurch, New Zealand, this past January where the surprise announcement the night before the race that the marathon route would be open to traffic resulted in the Canadian and British teams pulling athletes like myself and my good friend from England, David Weir, out of the potentially dangerous event.

Paralympic wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy is set to be one of Canada's biggest medal prospects at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The 26-year-old from Ottawa was left in a paralysed after he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, cancer in the spine and abdomen just weeks after his birth. He has gone on to compete for Canada at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and arguably his biggest victory came when he won the 2010 Virgin London Marathon 

Tim Hollingsworth: A record summer of Paralympic sport on home soil in build-up to London 2012

Tim_Hollingsworth_head_and_shouldersThe announcement last week of the ticketing strategy for the London 2012 Paralympic Games was another very important milestone in the journey to what will be a fantastic and once in a lifetime event on these shores. LOCOG's inventive and inclusive approach is geared towards maximising the number of people able to go and watch what will be incredibly high class competition across twenty different sports in not much more than a year's time.

As our athletes continue their preparations they know that the eyes of the nation will be on them next year, and while that brings pressure it also undoubtedly helps to drive success. A UK Sport study in 2009 suggested that there is an uplift of 25 per cent in performance when athletes compete on home soil, in front of passionate home support.

That is why it is vital that we try and give our athletes as much experience of home competition before London, and it is this that has driven UK Sport's National Lottery funded Major Events programme across 2011. In both Olympic and Paralympic sports, UK Sport has sought to ensure that as many events come to these shores as possible over the year.

As a result, the UK is set to host a record number of major international Paralympic events in preparation for the Games. Next week sees the BT sponsored Paralympic World Cup, an event that UK Sport is not involved in supporting but which is absolutely part of the Paralympic calendar and provides competition for athletics, swimming and wheelchair basketball athletes. It kicks off a summer where there will then be the opportunity to see nine different Paralympic Sports in towns and cities all across Britain.

To give some highlights, the events that UK Sport is funding kick off with the Disability Sailing World Championships which is taking place in July at the London 2012 venue in Weymouth. Among many other prospects, Britain's reigning world champions, Niki Birrell and Alexandra Rickham (pictured), will be defending their titles in the SKUD class.

Then in August, Britain's reigning world and Paralympic champions in the sports of boccia and disability athletics will be showcasing their talents in major international championships on home soil. Fresh from their success earlier this year at the IPC World Championships in New Zealand, where 38 medals were won by British athletes, including 12 golds, UK Athletics will be hosting the London Disability Athletics Grand Prix on the August 6.

Two weeks later, Belfast is the venue for the Boccia World Cup, the sport's premier international event of 2011. Hosted by the University of Ulster between August 18 and 26, GB Boccia is targeting two to four medals at the event, providing ideal preparation for our athletes almost exactly a year out from London.

In addition to these three high profile world events, UK Sport's Lottery funded programme is also helping to bring these other events to the UK this year:

Sitting Volleyball Continental Cup

British Open in Disability Table Tennis

Visually Impaired Judo European Championships

Disability Shooting World Cup

Wheelchair Rugby GB Cup

Para-Archery Paralympic Qualification (UK Sport support still to be confirmed)

In addition to the athletes, of course these events also help support staff to prepare: coaches, physios, psychologists and all the other experts that surround a modern athlete equally need to be confident that they can handle the pressure and expectation of a home Games. Officials, judges and volunteers benefit from the experience too, as does the region where the event is held. Across all the Olympic and Paralympic events supported by the programme, UK Sport estimates that its Lottery investment can help to return five times as much to the local economy.

Above all else, however, the truly exciting element is the exposure that Paralympic sport will receive. I should declare an interest here: in July it is my privilege to take over as chief executive of the British Paralympic Association. I am committed to working with everyone at ParalympicsGB to ensure that we use the power of London 2012 not just to ensure athletes success at the Games but also to raise awareness of the incredible achievement and inspiration of the athletes and hopefully change people's attitudes to disability and the opportunities that Paralympic sport can provide.

I am really looking forward to the challenge, and to attending many of the events I have highlighted above to see our athletes in action. The summer of Paralympic sport we are about to witness across the UK is the perfect set up for what we all hope and expect will be a truly memorable Games next year, and the start of a new era for our sports and athletes.

Tim Hollingsworth is chief operating officer at UK Sport and set to become ParalympicsGB chief excutive in July

Tom Degun: The price is right for London 2012 Paralympic tickets

Tom_Degun_head_and_shouldersSo London 2012 has finally unveiled their pricing structure for 2012 Paralympic tickets and things look; well... surprisingly cheap!

The key stats: more than 95 per cent of the tickets will be priced at £50 ($82) or under, with 75 per cent going for no more than £20 ($33) and 50 per available at £10 ($16) or less.

Factor in that a London Travelcard is included within the price of a ticket for the day of the event and the word bargain springs to mind.

The pricing structure appears to be in stark contrast to that at Olympic Games where is costs up to £750 ($1,228) for a seat in the Olympic Stadium and the night of the men's 100 metre final and an eye watering £2,012 ($3,294) for a good spot in stands as the Opening Ceremony takes place.

As well as the criticism over Olympic ticket prices, the fact that money is taken from accounts before applicants know which events they have secured has come under fire.

Applicants were originally told to make sure they had enough money in their accounts from May 10 to June 10 but organisers now say people will not be billed until next Monday at the earliest while they carry out ballots for oversubscribed events.

There is unlikely to be nearly as much trouble or criticism when it comes to purchasing a Paralympic ticket but one is entitle to raise an eyebrow about why it is apparently so cheap to go to the London 2012 Paralympics when it is so expensive for an Olympic ticket.

Simple answer is that the Paralympics have not yet reached the same popularity level as the Olympics and therefore cannot yet command the same ticket prices.

It is down to supply and demand.

This is not to suggest that Paralympic sport is less entertaining than Olympic sport.

On the contrary, I was far more entertained as a spectator watching wheelchair racing star Dave Weir storm to gold at the QEII Stadium in the IPC World Athletics Championships in Christchurch in January than I was watching sprinter Mark Lewis take silver at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.

This is only to suggest that the general public in the UK know far more about Olympic sport than they do Paralympic sport at present.

Olympic names like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Sir Chris Hoy are house-hold.

Outside Oscar Pistorius (pictured) – who is probably better known as the "Blade-Runner" – not many of your friends could give you a list of top Paralympians.

This however, is where London 2012's Paralympic ticket strategy may be a masterstroke.

Let's just think about it realistically.

More than 20 million ticket applications have been made for 6.6 million Olympic tickets.

Basic mathematics shows a few people out there are going to be disappointed in their ambition to get a ticket.

They want to be a part of this amazing, once-in-a-generation festival of sport in London and to sit in the venues that the world's elite have graced.

So they spot tickets going on sale for the Paralympic Games.

They realise that they are in the same world class venues used at the Olympics and better still, they realise that the tickets are rather cheap.

So as sport fans, they sign up for them.

They head along to the Games and immediately realise exactly what Paralympic sport is all about. Speed, aggression, passion, intensity and the same unbelievable skill level as seen in able-bodied elite sport.

In return, London 2012 gets full stadiums which mean better atmospheres and ultimately a better overall spectacle. No one likes to see empty seats at any sporting occasion and this may well be negated by the low price for Paralympic Games tickets.

London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton has already stated that he is confident that all Paralympic Games tickets will sell out with people wanting to feel part of the 2012 experience.

In addition, London 2012 has funds to raise with £30 million ($49 million) needed to be generated from Paralympic ticket sales.

They could have attempted to do this though selling a few hugely expensive tickets but instead, they have gone for the much more understandable strategy of selling the majority, if not all, at a low price.

There are also a number of highly attractive schemes in place - such as day passes which will enable ticketholders to see a range of sports taking place over a day - and plans to get local schools to attend as the Games are after all taking place in term-time from August 29 until September 9, 2012.

Ticket applications from the public will be accepted between September 9-30, 2011 and my advice would be to sign up.

Don't question the price or even the fact that it covers your travel; just go along.

Then sit back and enjoy!

Tom Degun is the Paralympics reporter for insideworldparasport

Maura Strange: IWAS World Junior Games could provide the blueprint for a Youth Paralympic Games

Maureen_Strange_head_and_shouldersIt was just last month that International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) Junior Games in Dubai reached a conclusion and the subject of Junior Games has been a hot topic for the IOC, the IPC and here on insideworldparasport.

IWAS efforts in this area are recognised by the Paralympic Movement, not only for the pathway it establishes for young athletes with a physical disability, but also for the part the event can play in the bigger picture for the future of a potential Youth Paralympic Games.

Whilst the IPC admits that at the moment the main focus is on the Paralympic Games itself, which are still evolving; recently Xavier Gonzalez, the chief executive of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), said in an interview to insideworldparasport on the subject of a Youth Paralympic Games: "One of our members, IWAS, also runs a World Junior Games so we are trying to bring all of these elements together."

There are many athletes worldwide who have taken the opportunity of the IWAS World Junior Games to further their career in sport internationally. Not least is the four-time Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius from South Africa who competed in the track discipline of the sport of IPC Athletics at the event not so long ago.

This 24-year-old double amputee has now recently achieved the B-qualification for Olympic Games and continues to pursue his dream of a double amputee competing against Olympians as well as Paralympians.

A wealth of memories, experiences and achievements fill an athlete's career from initial grass roots at national and international level as a Junior right through to Senior competition at World Championships and then the Paralympic Games for the super-elite.

The IPC is also looking to organise a Past Paralympian Reunion during the 2012 London Games. This initiative and the year 2012 coincide nicely with IWAS 60th anniversary and IWAS plans for celebration!

Maura Strange is the IWAS secretary general