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Dom Thorpe

10 important things to think about before you take part in Parallel London

1) Preparation! Don’t rock up to the event thinking it’ll be a breeze. Ideally, you should try and cover similar distances in preparation beforehand. At the bare minimum, try and do one long walk/run (allowing several days for recovery) in order to dust off the cobwebs. This will help in many ways and make it the fun and enjoyable day it should be.

2) Break in your shoes! If you’re tackling the event on foot, make sure you have suitable footwear and have broken them in sufficiently. The last thing you need is blistered feet. By wearing in your shoes for a few weeks prior to the walk, you’ll stand a much better chance of a successful enjoyable day.

3) Bring gloves! This applies to people using wheelchairs or any hand operated mode of locomotion. As with feet, hands can get blistered and you don’t want that during the run, or after the event so pick a suitable pair of gloves, ideally something with grip like a gym glove or sailing glove and break them before the event.

4) Set yourself a goal. This is easier if you’ve done the event before because you’ll already have last year’s time as a bench mark to beat. If you haven’t, use some of your practice runs to determine a target time which will give you something to aim for. At Parallel London, you get a timing chip which accurately records your run time. This helps in two ways: (i) It helps keep you motivated throughout the run, and; (ii) People love challenges. We love having a purpose and a target time makes the task more fulfilling if we can achieve the goal.

5) Get some support! Nothing encourages you more than seeing some familiar faces on the side-line cheering you on. Tell as many friends and family as you can about the event and invite them down to cheer you on. Try and make sure you know where they will be as this can be an additional motivator especially when you’re feeling a little tired, but you know they’re just around the corner.

6) Put your name on it! Why not get personalised motivation from people you don’t know? Get your name displayed clearly somewhere on your shirt or wheelchair so that willing supporters can cheer you on ALL THE WAY THROUGH! It really does make a difference when you hear someone shouting out your name.

7) Arrive fuelled up! Although there will be refreshments along the way, making sure you have an energy packed meal the night before and on the morning of the run will ensure you have the fuel to easily whizz your way around the course. High energy foods such as rice, pasta, oats and potato should do the trick.

8) Pump it up! If you’re using a wheeled method of locomotion be sure to check the tyres beforehand. Check the pressure and have a look through the surface of the tyres for foreign objects. The last thing you need is a puncture and small fragments of glass which have been sitting there for some time have a tendency to penetrate through and cause a puncture at the most inconvenient of times. I use a pin or needle to carefully prize out any shards of glass.

9) Plan your journey! As with most London events, travelling can take longer than planned so ensure to check your route on the day and leave with plenty of time. That way, you’re more likely to have a stress-free journey and will arrive relaxed and ready to go.

10) Look forward to it! Lastly, and most importantly – DONT WORRY! This is a fun event designed to get anybody and everybody into physical activity. All you need to do is make it to the start line on time.

So, look, make sure you implement the above guidelines, get a bit of practice and HAVE FUN!

Good luck! You’ll be awesome 🙂

Dom Thorpe
Founder of Disability Training

The X Factor

I recently sat in on a seminar session featuring gay rights activist and campaigner, Sir Ian McKellen. Of course, he’s also quite well-known for his acting…..

The title of the seminar was ‘why are all heroes hetero?’ – but the burning question I didn’t have the opportunity to ask was ‘why are most villains disabled or disfigured?’.

Both these questions raise important points about stereotyping and how this contributes to people’s attitudes, perceptions and basic understanding of heroism and inclusion. For many years, the worlds of literature, television and film have fanned the flames of ignorance – and continue to do so.

One notable populist exception is Marvel’s X-Men and I was interested to hear Sir Ian talk about it. As most will know, in the current film franchise he plays the powerful mutant, Magneto.

What Marvel creator, Stan Lee, has devised is a fascinating projection of our struggles to reconcile diversity with inclusion.

We have mutants – people who are different – who don’t fit the stereotypical mould of society and feel the need to hide away or cover themselves up. Some find refuge with the wheelchair using Professor X (a hero with visible disability); who fights to serve a greater good by promoting peaceful coexistence and equality between humans and mutants in a world where bigotry is widespread.

However, other mutants are more drawn to Magneto; who promotes a much more violent and aggressive approach to achieving civil rights and strives for segregation and superiority.


If we choose to look beyond the Hollywood special effects; we are actually looking into a mirror which reflects us all and the world in which we live. Except in real life, there are no super heroes to save us from ourselves….

Inclusion – A new way of measuring success?

Inclusion is so important for our communities. Our whole societal structures are built upon collaboration. Imagine if we excluded say engineers. We’d have no houses, transport or communication systems. Imagine if we excluded say artists. We’d have no outlet for expressing our emotions, and connecting with other people. We desperately need diversity and contribution from all types of people.

So why do some groups of people still remain excluded from parts of society?
This topic is not just relevant to disabled people. It touches many minority groups in the world. People struggling to access the same opportunities as others. This topic is also not for the whingers and complainers. It’s for the visionaries and optimists.

Let me explain this a bit better from the prism of disability. As a wheelchair user of 30 years (I’m now 33 years old), I’ve experienced so much exclusion. The house parties that were inaccessible. The transport without ramps. The bus and taxi drivers who were too busy to help. The organisations recruitment discrimination. The endless admin for care support and vital equipment.

Yuk. Doesn’t sound good right?
I’m very fortunate that my parents only saw barriers as challenges. No problem was too big to solve! They fought for me to go to mainstream school. They fought for my care and equipment. They took me abroad, despite the many pitfalls. They told me I was worthy, despite some funny old attitudes I came across.

Really what they gave me was a mindset. A mindset full of possibilities. A tool to take on the world. A power to bend reality to my will.
Once I finished my A Levels, I wanted to go to university. This time it would all be on me. Was I scared? Absolutely. Did I think it’d all go bad? Naturally. Did I do it? You bet I did!
Of course, I was homesick at the beginning. I’d be sick before big presentations from nerves. Sometimes it’d all be too much, and I’d go home for a weekend to recuperate.
It was however the best thing I ever did!

Since starting university nearly 15 years ago I learned to manage my health, finances, and independent living support better. I learned to drive an adapted car. I mastered resilience. I went with 2 care support workers to Australia 10 years ago. I lived and worked in London. I started my own business. I visited other places like Los Angeles, New York, Cancun, Barcelona, Berlin, Helsinki, and Tokyo. I’ve even flown a plane, SCUBA dived, been skiing, and written a book about these adventures.

It’s been scary, exhilarating, and phenomenal. All at the same time.
So this inclusion thing we touched upon earlier. If I hadn’t had these opportunities. Plus the super powers from my parents. Super powers everyone can access from many places too. I would’ve been stuck at home, depressed, unhealthy, and a different person.

With the acceptance of the world, I’m giving so much more back. In my family life, with my friends, and at work. This year I was voted Britain’s third most influential disabled person. All of these experiences, skills and knowledge I’ve acquired benefit the world. They all add to the rich tapestry of life in beautiful ways.

Maybe instead of looking at inclusion, accessibility, and equality as abstract hippy words. Or even worse as economically negative ideas. Let’s look at these as economic benefits. Most of all let’s look at the wonder of sharing ideas and experiences. Disabled or not. To all types of people.

We’re all here for more than outdated ideas of success and huge bank balances. Maybe it’s time to make inclusion our new measure for success and achievement?

Get Out Get Active

Statistics show disabled people to be the least active group in the UK.
The ‘Disabled People’s Lifestyle Report’ from September 2013, found that there is clear untapped demand for physical activity and sport within the community with 70 per cent of the disabled people surveyed stating they would like to be more active. The report also found that 64 per cent of the disabled people surveyed would prefer to take part in sport and physical activity with a mix of disabled and non-disabled people. However, at the time of the report only 51 per cent did so. The research highlighted a clear mismatch between people’s preferences and the availability of opportunities. Over 60 per cent of those surveyed claimed that either a lack of awareness of opportunities or a lack of available opportunities is what prevents them from taking part in sport and physical activity. Get Out Get Active is aimed at addressing these issues.
Get Out Get Active is a programme to encourage more disabled and non-disabled people to enjoy being active together and has been introduced by a consortium of partners led by the English Federation of Disability Sport. The £4.5m programme will concentrate on ‘fun and inclusive activities’ over a period of three years.

As the husband of a T12 paraplegic and somebody who has been involved in disability sport in various roles since 1991, I can relate very strongly to the finding that many disabled people want to take part in physical activity with a mix of disabled and non-disabled people.
My wife, Samantha, is a former No 1 Brazilian wheelchair tennis player and very active, but the majority of her current activities are with non disabled family and friends. In her wheelchair tennis career the competition was with other disabled people. Outside of the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour and since retiring, the vast majority of Sam’s physical activity and sport is done with non disabled people. The list of activities and sports she has tried is extensive:

Sports and activities

Archery, Basketball, Camping, Canoeing, Cycling, Dance, Fitness classes, Golf, Gym, Roller Skating, Snorkelling, Swimming, Surfing, Table Tennis, Tennis, Pushing/Walking, Trampolining and Yoga.

As a couple we want to do activities together and this certainly applies to our nieces who don’t see any barriers to the activities that we can do as a group. When planning to go roller skating the question came up as to whether the venue would allow Sam to go round in her wheelchair. The younger niece who must have been seven at the time said “of course it will be ok as she already has wheels”. Our nieces love to do activities with us as a group. We cycle, run, push, attend fitness classes, go swimming and play tennis as a family. We take part in these activities in the house, garden, parks, the countryside, and in sport clubs and leisure centres.
In the words of an 11 year old niece “I like the challenge of going on cycling adventures with Sam and solving how we will get over and round obstacles like rough ground, up and down slopes, across narrow bridges, over ditches and occasionally up and down steps using teamwork. When we go swimming, I don’t notice that Sam has a disability. She is such a good swimmer”.

We believe strongly in the benefits of inclusive activity and sport, but not just for the physical benefits. Exercise and social interaction are beneficial for the wellbeing of all family members. Exercise and sport for disabled people does not have to be in disability specific sessions. People can go for a walk/push with non-disabled family and friends of a similar fitness level. Some people may prefer to participate with people with a similar impairment. Some may want a combination of both, complementing the time spent with family and friends; and time with people with a similar impairment sharing thoughts and ideas. The key is that the disabled person is in a position to make choices about the most suitable environment(s) for them to exercise and play sport.

Wheelchair tennis

To conclude, everybody should Get Out and Get Active. I am off for a run followed by some yoga.

If truth be told I’m really not into sports, unless you count clothes shopping and wine tasting as sporting activities?

As far as I can remember, my relationship with exercise and sport has always been unpleasant. Having to attend physical therapy once a week meant I missed a substantial amount of school time, leaving me feeling isolated and highlighting the fact that I was the disabled kid in the school. Sport was never really for fun. In fact, physical therapy was often painful and tiring.

I remember school sports days where I sat mostly on the sidelines spectating not partaking. The few activities I could be part of I found awkward. I was embarrassed as full participation was never an option nor did I find them enjoyable.

My older sister Stephanie was a sports pro, head of hockey and netball; she did judo, kickboxing and gymnastics to name but a few and I loved watching her in competitions, but we didn’t do any of this together and it put a strain on our relationship. I was, at times, envious of her and she resented me for holding her back as she was not allowed a bike simply because I couldn’t ride one.

As I’ve grown older, there have been times when I’d wished sports and exercise were a part of my life. Playing sports, being part of a team, going to the gym and meeting new people; keeping your mind and body fit and having something to look forward to are all essential for people living with a disability.

The Paralympics showed disability in an amazing way, but not everyone like myself is a Paralympian which is why I’m so proud, excited and, above all, honoured to be an ambassador of Parallel London. Parallel has something for everyone, no matter what your ability. It isn’t who can finish the race first or who can kick the ball the furthest or who’s the strongest, it’s about coming together in a beautiful place in the heart of London and having fun with your family and friends. Parallel gives siblings an opportunity to play and have fun together, something I’m sure families rarely get a chance to do. The whole concept of Parallel London excited me from the moment I was introduced to it. It’s going to be bigger and better than last year and there will be something for everyone.

Follow Samantha Renke on Twitter @samrenke, keep up with on the latest from @ParallelLondon.

Fly me to the moon, fly me to the stars, just don’t fly me to JFK airport. Again. At all. Ever.
Emily, my daughter, her wheelchair, myself and wife Aimee took to the skies via Virgin Atlantic, on a working jaunt to America to host America’s first Disability Led comic con. While this country and the wider world seems to be determined to marginalise disability, Virgin probably provided the best disabled care anywhere on Earth. Even though we were not, technically, ON Earth.

The flight and the crew were delightful, caring, but not demeaning to Emily in the slightest, nothing was too much trouble and the usual rigmarole we face over her toileting was nowhere in sight high above the Atlantic. In short, the Virgin crew were the most inclusive people we have ever met, second only to the team behind Parallel London.
Our dreamy flight however probably lulled us into a false sense of security. Were all flights and airports as inclusive and comforting as this? Well, after we entered security at JFK that illusion disappeared faster than a UKIP local election seat.

Security, I know, the clue’s in the name, adopt a grim, soulless philosophy like they have woken up in a world where someone has stolen all the smiles and manners. They prodded, poked and even swabbed Emily and her wheels, making her feel like the world’s most vulnerable, polite terrorist. Emily was as usual, an exceptional ambassador for disability, but she was apprehensive, feeling nervy while security made no attempt to make her situation any less intrusive. The whole security scenario was playing out like an overly intense remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but replace the Oompa Loompas with hard faced, world weary wannabe CIA agents and you get the general picture.
That done, the next step was locating a toilet, anywhere that Emily could use. Accessible toileting is something I regularly bang on about to the point where a planner or council may one day get their head out of their little box of insular sand and make all toilets decent changing places, and we were hoping that in this futuristic, shiny palace of wonderful culture that a loo would be easy to locate and staff assisted.

We looked around, plenty of ladies and gents signposted and even pet relief stations, which should have given me a sign of disabilities worth in the scale of care. We approached some employees to enquire about toilet locations and I was reminded of being in the film, Sixth Sense as enquiries were met by ignored people or those just staring and walking away. Others shrugged shoulders and looked about as interested as someone watching a film premiere of ‘cardboard, and why it is’. Emily was becoming quite desperate and my usual British cheerfulness was running dry. Aimee finally in tired, frustrated desperation put her shoulder to an unmarked door between toilets, and behold, a hidden disabled loo, making us feel like ablution archaeologists.

Right, connecting flight, easy, yes? No. Before we left, all our arrangements for care and wheelchair had been forwarded to relevant flights, but the chain of information had broken much like a political promise. I enquired politely what had gone wrong and explained the lack of accessible toileting, but I felt like I was explaining our situation to someone who if confronted with the end of civilisation, would stare blankly muttering apologies as convincing as an East Enders plotline.
No isle chair for Emily, no apology for the toilet debacle and no dialogue about what we should do if the aisle seat failed to materialise. So, we waited as our flight boarded and was about to leave before the chair finally arrived and Emily was literally manhandled aboard. Once again, staff with as much care for her situation as they would have for discarded chewing gum.
This was just the outward journey, sadly I would need at least a word count resembling War and Peace to detail the comedic events of our return to the village of the damned two days later. The story would weave a storyline a sitcom writer would be proud of! A cold-hearted tale of lost luggage, lost flights, asthma attacks and deadpan looks that made our journey home as disability friendly as Hannibal lector buying you drinks at the pub.

JFK airport, not a good ambassador for the rest of America which we found to be gloriously friendly and wonderfully inclusive. Ours is not the only story of abject rudeness and being made to feel as worthwhile and loved as Ian Beale, I assumed it was just us that were singled out for special unfriendly treatment, but no, I have been hearing more stories of airport ignorance from the incredible community we love and work with. Perhaps gleaming, utopian airports such as this need CEOs and staff not trained in inclusive care by the Klingon Empire….

I am taking part in this year’s Parallel event as I was inspired to do after meeting some young participants at last year’s event. Anyone who knows me will know I have stopped in their tracks. Not because the thought of me doing anything overtly physical is totally unlike me, but more because I used the word inspired. You see, for many disabled people the term inspired or inspiration or inspirational fill us with dread. It’s a word that gets used far too often when talking about disabled people, and tends to be used in such a way that actually hurts us, usually without any malice at all.

All of us have been truly inspired in our lives. I remember vividly the moment when Ian Dury inspired me, a disabled teenager, to become a professional musician, dreaming of being a popstar. I was inspired by musicians like Gary Numan and Depeche Mode into making the kind of music I played for many decades, and then when I became a TV presenter I met other disabled people who said they were inspired to go into the media by seeing me on the TV screens as they grew up. Other people have been inspired to paint by witnessing a stunning landscape; inspired to write by hearing someone’s story and, like me, inspired to try sport by experiencing and atmosphere and camaraderie or a major sporting event, such as Parallel. But all of these are the real meaning of inspired. To be driven by something to action. The problem is that for many disabled people, the word inspiring is thrown into a description of our lives for no other reason that we are being us.

I was born with cancer, and luckily an experimental treatment means that 51 years after my diagnosis, I’m still alive and thriving. I have lost count of the number of times I have been called inspiring for having beaten cancer, despite the fact I have no memory of any of my treatment. I mean I was given the all clear at the age of five! Later, at the age of 15, a side effect of the cancer treatment caused my spine to collapse and I ended up becoming a full time wheelchair user. Again, I got described as inspiring time after time, but not by people who were going through the same experience and wanted proof of what their new life on wheels might entail. Mostly, I was an inspiration to non-disabled people, and they just seemed to be amazed that I had gone out after becoming a wheelchair user and built a successful and happy life. To a disabled person, being called inspirational can feel like an insult, if the person saying it isn’t actually inspired to action. If it’s just “Well if you can be you, with all of the awfulness of disability, then I should be able to be better. I have no excuses”, then without meaning anything insulting, you’ve belittled our experience, our lives and placed yourself above us, all with the use of one word.

Now that’s not to say people can’t be inspired by disabled people. Of course they can. Whether it’s a motivation to get into sports or the arts or business, or maybe even cut your hair weird like say an ageing punk rocker that uses a wheelchair, you can be inspired. It does have to be an active process. To be inspired you need to aspire to emulate your inspiration. Inspire is a verb, a doing word. To be inspired you need to be driven to action.

At the first Parallel, I was there to record the event on video and didn’t even try to take part. Sport? Physical effort? Me? Er, no. After meeting the young disabled people who were taking part, seeing their excitement at being able to join in with such an event for the first time, witnessing how happy they were to do something they always thought would be closed to them and then experiencing their joy as they passed the finish line touched me. More importantly, it inspired me to take part. I wanted to be like them. I will be one of them this year.

If you have been inspired by a disabled person to also get involved with this year’s Parallel, I look forward to seeing you there. If you meet disabled people while you are there that make you want to go and do something new, smashing. If you find yourself throwing the I-bomb to a disabled person without first thinking “am I really inspired by this person or do I just admire them and think they’re amazing” (nothing wrong with telling us we’re amazing by the way), watch out.

If I hear you, I may ‘accidentally’ run you over! Oops.

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