It was one year ago today London welcomed the Paralympic Games home with the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the largest Games in history.
More than 4,000 athletes from 164 countries, including 227 Americans, competed in 20 sports over the next 11 days, inspiring athletes and the fans alike.
“The enthusiasm for these Paralympics is extraordinary,” said Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Organizing Committee, during his welcome speech at the Opening Ceremony. “The crowds will be unprecedented. These will be Games to remember.”
He was right. Donning the red, white and blue, Team USA was led into the Olympic Stadium by five-time U.S. Paralympian Scott Danberg (Cooper City, Fla.), who had been voted the flag bearer by his U.S. teammates earlier in the week, and went on to win 99 medals.
"It's been huge, this is my fifth Paralympics and I've seen it all, it's been quite an evolution,” Danberg said after the Opening Ceremony. “What's been really phenomenal is Oscar Pistorius competing at the Olympic Games. If you go home (to the USA) and say Paralympics, it's now a household word."
Guided by two notable British figures – Professor Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist and author, and actor Ian McKellen – the crowd explored the Age of Enlightenment and was encouraged by Hawking to be curious.
Nearly 3,000 cast members ages 10 to 80, some of whom were deaf and disabled, told a story of a journey to discovery and knowledge. Umbrellas were a staple of the ceremony, as a hometown invention from 1852, and William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity were also referenced in the performance.
But as athletes looked forward to the events to come, the words of McKellen rang true: “The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.”
In fact, the future, present and past of Paralympic sport were represented in the final moments of the Torch relay. The Torch entered the stadium with Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend, who as a triathlete hopes to compete in a future Games, and was passed along to David Clarke, who is currently on Team Great Britain’s five-a-side football team. The final torch bearer, Margaret Maughan, was Britain’s first gold medalist as an archer at the inaugural Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.
These Paralympians have logged countless hours training and have prepared for this moment for years, and with more attention directed to the Games now than ever before, athletes had their chance to make a mark.
“The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world,” said Hawking near the end of the Opening Ceremony. “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.”
With a true celebration of what is to come over the duration of the Games, the spirit of the night and of the start of these Games is one the athletes won’t soon forget.
“It was one of the best ceremonies that I have been a part of,” track and field athlete Jerome Singleton (Irmo, S.C.) said. “It was really cool, and I am ready to get these Games started.”
The London 2012 Paralympic Games ran through Sept. 9.
To commemorate the one year anniversary of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, USParalympics.org will look back on the best performances of the Games through Sept. 9.