Rio Paralympics 2016: 'It's not about how full the stadiums are'

Wheelchair basketball player Simon Munn
Seven-time Paralympian Simon Munn, 48, lost his leg in a train accident aged 21
Paralympic Games on the BBC
Venue: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Dates: 7-18 September Time in Rio: BST -4
Coverage: Follow on Radio 5 live and via live text commentary

Some of Britain's most experienced Paralympians are about to compete in a fifth, sixth or even seventh consecutive Games.

Before Rio 2016, they share their wisdom with the rest of Great Britain's 264-strong team, 50% of whom are making their Games debut.

'It will change your life - but I've missed my children's birthdays'

Simon Munn (wheelchair basketball)

Munn (48) will be appearing in his seventh Paralympics. He lost his leg in a train accident aged 21 and was introduced to wheelchair basketball in the early 1990s. He made his GB debut at the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona and has a Paralympic silver and two bronzes plus two world silvers and four European titles to his name.

Before Barcelona I didn't know Paralympic sport. We trained individually during the week and came together as GB once a month. I just felt as if I was going on holiday with my mates who also played basketball and I felt that until I actually arrived there and I couldn't believe it.

We were playing in front of 16,000 people - there were 4,000 others who wanted to come who were turned away.

It was when I came back from Barcelona that my life changed. I fell in love with the sport even more and started having aspirations and goals and I wanted to achieve something.

The sport is now more professional - things like chair technology. I remember in Barcelona, and probably in Atlanta, we had no strapping across our laps or a fifth wheel on the back of the chair. When you got knocked out of your chair, you would go one way and the chair would go the other and it was 20 or 30 seconds before you were back in the chair. Now everything stays and two seconds later you are back in action.

I've missed a lot of my children's lives, including important birthdays. My son is seven and I've only been there once for it. I missed my daughter's 16th, 18th and 21st and although my career has been awesome and I have enjoyed it thoroughly, it has been hard on the family as well and there have been some sacrifices.

Paralympic swimmer Sascha Kindred
38-year-old Sascha Kindred will be taking part in his sixth Games

'It's not about how full the stadiums are'

Sascha Kindred (swimming)

Kindred (38) has cerebral palsy which affects the right-hand side of his body. He made his Great Britain debut in 1994 (before many of his Rio swimming team-mates were born) aged 14, and has been a key figure in the team ever since.

Among a host of honours, he has six Paralympic gold medals to his name and will be representing GB at a sixth Paralympics in Rio. He won silver at London 2012 in the SM6 200m individual medley and, after claiming world gold in the event last year, he is back for what he says will be his last Paralympics.

My GB team-mate in Rio Abby Kane has recently turned 13 - I only learned to swim when I was 11 so to be that young at a Paralympics is incredible and something that I just can't contemplate.

We have such a great team of experienced and younger athletes - the older ones want to share their experiences to make sure that those younger ones can cope with the Games environments, while the younger ones are keeping us on our toes so we can get the best out of our swimming.

I do see myself as a mentor to some of the younger ones and try to share my experience of what it is like to be an elite athlete reaching their pinnacle at a Paralympics.

The movement has grown so much since I made my debut in Atlanta and because I didn't know any different at the time, I thought it was superb and just made the best of it and I still performed the best I could, but then four years later in Sydney it went up to a totally different level and London brought it up even further.

It is about how you embrace it as an athlete and how you make it good for you, not about how full the stadiums are.

Each Games is unique in its own way in how the country embraces it and how much they want the Paralympics to be a massive event. You can't compare it - they all have a different style.

Wheelchair basketball player Clare Griffiths
Clare Griffiths says when she is struggling, "I have to remind myself that this is possible"

'I'm reminded often that I'm 10 years older than anyone else'

Clare Griffiths (wheelchair basketball)

A talented hockey player who broke her back in a horse riding accident aged 18, Griffiths discovered wheelchair basketball as part of her rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville in 1997. She made her first international appearance the following year at the World Championships in Australia and her Paralympic debut came in Sydney in 2000. Since then she has won seven European bronzes and was co-captain at London 2012. At 36, and competing in her fifth Games, she is the veteran of a team that features four teenagers.

When I played at the World Championships in 1998, my competition chair had been bought thanks to money raised by someone running the London Marathon.

Then in the run-up to Sydney we had to raise £20,000 just to take part in a preparation tournament. We went into schools doing talks and encouraging them to fundraise.

Before Rio, we had two tournaments before last Christmas and also played in Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, the USA and France. That's where we have come from.

I'm hugely envious of the players coming through now and I wish I was 10 years younger. Rio will be great but watch out Tokyo. Those girls have got so much talent and energy and are 16 and 17 and have 15 years ahead of them but are already going to a Paralympics.

There are some times when I feel old. I do get plenty of grief from them - things like nicknames - but I enjoy it and there is also the respect. I'm reminded often that I'm 10 years older than anyone else on the team and some mornings when you are struggling, you wonder have you done it for too long, but my body is still out there fighting to compete and I am still one of the top 12 players in the country.

I'm really proud of that and on the days when I am struggling I have to remind myself that this is possible and still achievable and those early mornings are worth it.

Wheelchair rugby player Alan Ash
Alan Ash says para-athletes "max every inch of what we have left in our bodies"

'You're an elite athlete now - lean on others if you need help'

Alan Ash (wheelchair rugby)

A Royal Marine and a talented footballer who played semi-pro for Wolves and had trials for Arsenal and West Brom, Ash (43) broke his back in a car accident aged 17. He made his international wheelchair rugby debut in 1995 and his Paralympic debut came in Atlanta the following year. After playing in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, he missed London 2012 after failing to be selected for the squad but returned the following year... meaning Rio will be his fifth Games.

Things have changed massively from when I started playing. It was quite laid back as far as the training regime, what was expected of us, how we portrayed ourselves, how professional it was, the technology of the chairs, the way the sport was funded and the way disabled people were seen.

Back then I think people saw disabled people playing sport and thought it was nice for them to do it.

Now, after 2012 and the success of that, we are perceived as elite athletes, but that is what we are. We max every inch of what we have left in our bodies.

When it comes to village life, sleeping can be tough because you are excited but you can lean on other athletes if you need help.

Playing a team sport is so powerful. If someone is struggling you get strength from other areas and we have bucketloads of support available.

Paralympic archer John Cavanagh
John Cavanagh was still working full-time when he won gold in Athens

'There is so much pressure and expectation'

John Cavanagh (archery)

Gold medallist in Athens in 2004, Cavanagh is the veteran of the archery squad and will be competing in his fifth Games in Rio.

He had an accident while skiing in Switzerland in 1989 and took up archery the following year. He made his GB debut in 1995 and Sydney 2000 was his Paralympic debut.

When I was preparing for my first Games in Sydney. I was working full-time for a small medical research charity. There was nobody to hand the work over to so I was working almost right up until departure and preparations were very difficult.

Now, I am a full-time archer and my life revolves around the sport.

It was in 2006, after I won gold in Athens, that I got to the top level of funding in the sport. I was still working full-time so I gradually wound that down and I haven't had another job since.

For people starting off in the sport now, it would be very difficult to combine a full-time job with elite-level training. There is so much pressure and expectation on us and we are expected to do our sport full-time.

Unless you have other sources of income, from, for example, your family, it is very difficult because you still have to pay bills and costs. For youngsters it is easy but for those with mortgages and families it is more difficult.

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