A valiant group of celebrities, Paralympians and Paralympic supporters today battled it out on the waters of Surrey Docks, London to mark exactly one-year-to-go to the Beijing Paralympic Games and to help launch the BPA’s new interactive fundraising initiative – the Road to Beijing.
Paralympic Games medallists Ade Adepitan, Giles Long, John Cavanagh and Dervis Konuralp were joined by TV presenters Giles Vickers-Jones and Penny Mallory; former Gladiator James Crossley, aka Hunter; Bill actress Trudie Goodwin; reality TV star Naomi Lay, from the Apprentice 2007; and young explorer Jake Meyer, to help launch a new online interactive fundraising map.
London 2012 Organising Committee Chairman Sebastian Coe, Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell and Olympian Tessa Sanderson were also on hand to kick-start the race and support the initiative.
In exactly 365 days Britain’s top Paralympic athletes will parade into the National Stadium in Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Games. But to ensure that our athletes have the best possible chance of putting in personal best performances to medal in Beijing we need to raise funds to pay for support services and structures for our athletes.
The mile completed today in London will be the first in the journey from London to Beijing and from today supporters will be able to log on and also “own a mile” of the journey – a voyage which symbolises the courage, determination and sheer hard work that our athletes put in every day.
Our supporters will be able to feel the honour of being part of the team and take pride in the achievements of our remarkable athletes whilst either collecting sponsorship for putting in their own mile, however wacky, or simply pledging their support online.
The map, which was created using new technology from Google Maps allowing you to embed maps into your own website, will be interactive, engaging and fun. By visiting Paralympic landmarks along the way the map will create an opportunity to discover and celebrate our Paralympic history and help shape its future.
British Paralympic Association President Mike Brace OBE, said: “We are delighted to be launching this new fundraising initiative, which we hope will encourage Britain to get behind our Paralympic athletes as we begin the countdown to the Beijing Games.
“The money raised from this exciting initiative will help us nurture and support our athletes so that they can put in medal winning performances in Beijing in 2008 as well as Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012.
“By using new technology from Google Maps we have created this interactive map, which we hope will help get the nation behind our ParalympicsGB team to support them towards Beijing next year.”
London 2012 Organising Committee Chairman Seb Coe, said: “The Paralympic Games is one of the world’s most exciting and inspiring sporting events for elite athletes.
“It gives me great pleasure to lend my support to the British Paralympic Association’s Road to Beijing campaign to give our athletes the best possible chance of success at Beijing 2008 Games. Success in Beijing will lead us into London’s Olympiad and undoubtedly even greater achievements at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.”
Wheelchair basketball star and Paralympic Games bronze medallist Ade Adepitan said: “I was really pleased to be asked to take part in today’s dragon boat race and captain one of the teams.
“Road to Beijing is a fantastic fundraising idea and presents a great opportunity for the nation to support the ParalympicsGB team as they prepare for Beijing next year.
“Having represented Great Britain at the Athens Paralympic Games in 2004, where I won bronze with the basketball team, I know just how amazing it feels to have the support of the nation behind you. Just being at the games and making everyone back at home proud makes all the hard work, that every single member of the ParalympicsGB team puts in every single day, truly worthwhile. I hope everyone will pledge online and support the team as they strive for success in Beijing.”
Tessa Jowell, the Minister with responsibility for the Paralympic Games, said: “I am delighted to support this fantastic initiative. The Government is absolutely committed to disability sport and supporting our Paralympians to help them excel in Beijing next year and in our own Games in 2012.
“We are investing more money than ever before to support our very best Paralympic athletes and have ambitious plans for London that will set new standards for services, facilities and opportunities for disabled people.
“I am determined to ensure that we deliver on this and inspire everyone, whatever their circumstances, to choose sport.”
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, said: "We must ensure that our current and future Paralympic athletes have the best possible chance of success. By supporting the BPA's Road to Beijing initiative we can all play a part in raising the vital funds needed to take our Paralympian's to Beijing in 2008.
“Just as importantly though, disabled people must have more opportunities to take part in sport and active recreation at all levels. The work that I am undertaking with Sport England London and the London Sports Forum for Disabled People will begin to tackle the inequality in provision that disabled Londoners face, addressing the gap in opportunity, encouraging healthier lifestyles and helping to nurture Paralympians of the future"
Britain has consistently been among the top performing nations at the Paralympic Games, only three-times finishing outside the top-three medalling countries at the Games. In both Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 Britain finished second in the medals table.
In order for Britain to stay competitive, the British Paralympic Association needs to ensure athletes have the best possible opportunities to create lifetime best performances and that new, emerging athletes are constantly being identified and helped to develop.
In order to achieve this task and help athletes to achieve their potential we need funds to pay for support services and structures, which our top athletes require and deserve to compete on the world stage and to remain on the podium.
It will cost approximately £7000 to take one athlete to the Beijing Paralympic Games and we are expecting to take a team of around 250 athletes. We are hoping that our Road to Beijing initiative will raise at least £50,000 of the £1.75 million required in funding.
To get involved with the Road to Beijing visit www.paralympics.org.uk/roadtobeijing
photos Janos Schmidt