Column: The glory and thrill of the Paralympics is a triumph for everyone

Great Britain's Will Bayley celebrates winning gold at the Rio Paralympic Games
Great Britain's Will Bayley celebrates winning gold at the Rio Paralympic Games
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It has to be one of the most powerful and heart-warming transformations in human history.

Thirty years ago the disabled were characterised by Spastics Society collection boxes in the shape of forlorn-looking children with leg calipers, clutching teddy bears and asking for spare change.

Today we have talented, fit and disabled sporting Paralympic heroes and heroines like Will Bayley and Grace Clough, Sue Gilroy, Jo Butterfield and dozens of others.

From the marginalised, pitied and patronised ‘spastics’ of the 1980s to sporting warriors in a generation.

That is a huge and life-affirming leap.

Of course for every victory there are a dozen defeats and there are many battles still to win for help and respect for the potentially vulnerable in society.

But the way disability sport has been transformed through campaigning, funding, attitudinal change and the iron will of its competitors is nothing short of astonishing.

Not every disabled person is a sports star any more than every able-bodied person plays for Real Madrid and gross injustices still occur every day.

But real strides have been made by disability campaigners and their supporters, many previously dismissed as ‘politically correct’ or ‘radical’ agitators.

The seeds of this transformational change in attitude towards the disabled were partially sown at what used to be Lodge Moor Hospital in Sheffield.

Following the example of Dr Ludwig Guttman at Stoke Mandeville, patients at Lodge Moor – mostly ex-miners with spinal injuries – did sporting activities to help their rehabilitation.

They entered teams in the early Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralysed, which would later become the Paralympics.

So when Sheffield-based Will Bayley cheekily leapt on a table-tennis table to celebrate his Paralympic gold he celebrated more than winning a medal.

He and every other competitor are a celebration of the triumph of positivity and dedication over inertia, ignorance and prejudice.

A triumph of the human spirit to gladden all our hearts.

# So Sheffield Wednesday’s Jeremy Helen is to retire from football at the age of 24 to concentrate on religion.

Fair enough, that’s his choice.

But I wonder one day, when he’s too old to come back, if he will regret not making full use of the talent that God or nature and hard work gave him while he was still young enough to enjoy and make a good living from it?

Let’s hope not, we wish him well.