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Paralympians Point the Way to All of Us Overcoming Limitations

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For 210 minutes last Wednesday night the world was treated to a unique lesson in what constitutes real ability.

The opening ceremony of Paralympics 2012 wasn't just a colourful and carefully choreographed extravaganza of lighting effects, fireworks, music and a large cast of volunteers but something much more valuable.

It demonstrated not only what the so-called disabled are capable of but how much more the majority labelled "able-bodied" (myself included) could do.

The Metro published a Tweet from an uncomfortably honest Adriana which summed up the issue with poignancy:

They're representing their country in the Paralympics and here's me with two arms, two legs, doing nothing with my life.

But that's how it is. Ability and disability are not simply defined by the state of our bodies but also by context and attitude. This second part of our London 2012 party is a lesson to all about how we can better identify and express our unique abilities.

As British gold medal Paralympian Chris Holmes put it on BBC's Ten O'Clock news:

The Paralympics is the games of the possible. It is about what you can do rather than what you can't.

And while Stephen Hawking is a master of scientific rather than athletic skills, the Opening Ceremony compere is also living proof of the irrepressible "can do" spirit which many "disabled" individuals express so inspiringly.

Before and after the impressive parade of athletes - every bit as effervescent as the OIympians four weeks earlier - the renowned theoretical physicist and best-selling author of A Brief History of Time led us through what could be called "a brief history of the enlightenment".

And, thankfully, we do indeed live in a more enlightened age - even though much remains to be done - as the sell-out success of the London Paralympics suggests. The hope is that the 2012 games can be a watershed moment for public perceptions of disability as the athletes show off their character as well as their skills.

And just like Olympians, the Paralympians attribute their "can do" spirit to different influences - from parents to peers, from favourite philosophies to physical regimes.

World-record breaking "elite wheelchair racer" Anjali Forber-Pratt cites all the above but also sees her "innate drive" to excel in athletics, academics and mentoring, as "as one of God's gifts".

The American athlete recently described her intense sense of purpose to 30 Days of YES founder Travis Thomas:

To me, living your YES means embracing the moments around you and living life with a purpose. The best way I can describe what that looks like is that you are living life with congruence between your values and your actions-meaning you walk your talk. I think this can look differently for different people, but the commonality is that you are an active agent in your own life making purposeful decisions rather than letting life happen around you.

Role models like Forber-Pratt show that what constitutes the underlying individuality of each of us goes beyond the issue of whether we are able-bodied or disabled.

Some, like Professor Hawking, attribute this to the human spirit. At the opening ceremony he said:

We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being but we share the same human spirit...However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do and succeed at.

Others feel the International Paralympic Committee's motto "Spirit in motion" might also hint at a diviner source for our inherent ability to overcome limitations. Are Paralympians evidencing this spiritual resource when they overcome physical shortcomings through patience, persistence and perseverance?

If so, it is an example to us all. Of course, not everyone will prove their resourcefulness by being a great athlete. For some it will be enough of a triumph if a growing awareness of not being physically defined brings some greater sense of normality to life despite the body's limitations.

Still others, like a friend of mine, would say that glimpsing our diviner nature can even lead to health-giving changes.

She was paralysed from the waist down and placed in a ward for those suffering from incurable conditions after doctors said she would never walk again. Instead she quickly recovered after a Christian Science practitioner's spiritual ministrations brought her a profoundly peaceful sense that "all was well" despite the physical evidence.

As she concludes:

I was extremely grateful for this healing, since I have had a very active life since.

London is reverberating with the activity of Paralympian's lives breaking down barriers before a watching world.

And as those barriers tumble these 4,200 athletes in East London are inspiring us to see that irrespective of our challenges there is some way we are each able to express excellence and achieve fulfilment.

Perhaps that's the message for the Adrianas of this world. If so, tomorrow's Tweet might well say:

They're representing their country in the Paralympics and here's me with two arms, two legs, and they're showing me just how much I have to offer.