Opening ceremony Beijing

The openining ceremont Last night was the best I have ever been to, a truly amazing and memorable experience which I felt privileged to be part of.
This is my third Paralympics, and while nothing will top walking out to a home crowd in Sydney, the entertainment here was breathtakingly spectacular.
Luckily I am not racing on the first day, so I was able toattend. Only eight of the swim team decided to March because swimmers who have events during the first three days were no allowed to because it could affect performance. The ceremony was to start at 8.08pm and we would not get home till midnight (which turned out to be 12 pm on the dot, they are very punctual here in China!).
Before putting on my uniform for the ceremony I went to an early dinner at about 4.30 and the village already had that special ‘opening ceremony vibe’ with many nations already strolling about in their national dress. On my way out I noticed that the volunteer who guards the entrance to our building was gone. This was unusual as every time any of us walk in or out they jump to their feet and say “hello” ( practising their English) and we practice our chinese by responding “nee-how”.Upon reaching the street I was amazed busses lined up all down the road with all the volunteers –including our missing one- standing down the middle of the road to farewell the athletes on the early busses. It was an incredible sight, busses as far as the eye could see. Australia were 3rd last to march out, so we could catch a later bus.
Back in my room I changed into my suit, and loaded myself up with flags,camera and video camera as well as my toy kangaroo Bk (short for boxing kangaroo).We wern’t allowed to bring bags, so it was quite a balancing act to juggle all these items and have my hands free to push my wheelchair.
By 6.45pm excited athletes, coaches and staff dressed in our blue blazers and green,gold and white shirt had assembled on the lawn outside Team AUS headquarters. We were given athlete access cards to hang around our necks and also little Australian flags to wave at the crowd. I ended up putting these in my hair as I needed to keep my hands free- it looked very patriotic I thought. All manner of photos were taken with different combinations of people, before we headed for the busses following our Chinese volunteer Kathy who lead the way with a big ‘australia sign. It was quite a walk but we eventually boarded our allocated bus and were off. I think i had a photo with everyone on the bus…we were a bit excited!
Bus bus departed at 7pm on the dot. Everything was so well organized and efficient, and no queues or chaos, not that we expected anything less after the amazing show china has put on so far.
Driving towards the Olympic precinct you have a stunning display of coloured lights and even giant tv screens on all the buildings and sculptures.Next to the birds nest the water cube changes colour continuously from reds to blues and is like a work of art. The birds nest was lit up in red lights. Although we have see this before when training at night, it is an awesome sight. And this time there were huge crowds of volunteers, spectators and even police and army officers cheering for us! We walked past rows of colourfully dressed performers to arrive at our allocated position to wait to march. Here everyone drank bottled water and snacked on food bags supplied by the organisers. I spent about 45 minutes in a very long multinational queue for a disabled toilet. When it was finally my turn I discovered that the lights work on a sensor and turn off if you stop moving- and the toilet only flushes when you open the door! Oh, and there is no sink just waterless handwash.
By the time I returned from the loo everyone was getting ready to march.
Brendan Keogh and I hatched an elaborate scheme to get him on tv so his kids at home could see him. He came over to me and said “I’m pushing you down the straight because you always get on tv!” We then had to tell everyone i had a sore shoulder (when i was perfectly fine!) so we could get away with pushing me in the wheelchair section! We followed our flag bearer towards the stadium. As we entered the tunnel under the stadium everyone broke into aussi war cries and then sang waltzing matildas. Suddenly we could see the crowd and were marching down the straight. I looked left trying to see my mum and the aussies in the stand but we were marching on the other side. A huge cheer rose up as the Chinese team followed us into the stadium, and I headed to the wheelchair seating area in the centre of the oval to watch the magic unfold.
WE were all given welcome bags on our seats with objects to be used at various times during the ceremony – torches, flags, coloured whirlies, and bells. Also a beautiful hard bound book which was the official programme – it is a beautiful keepsake.I was kept busy throughout the night opening these for myself and esther (who cannot use her hands very well) and working out when we should wave which item.
We made it home just before 12, thanks to efficient organisation, and tiptoed quietly into the house so we didn’t wake up sleeping swimmers. I collapsed into bed at 12 pm exhausted but on a high.
It was an amazing end to a day that had started out pretty ordinary for the swim team.
some of the athletes wen training at 8.15am. I had the day off so I had a nice sleep in.
The highlight of the day was our team meeting at 11.30 am, where we carried out a long standing team tradition, the reciting of “the poem ” by our sport scientist Brendan Burkett ( himself a paralympic gold medallist for 50m freestyle in 1996). He has been reciting this same poem for all the 10 years I have been part of this team… and this time he wrote a special verse about Beijing.Just incase we weren’t already in tears, after the poem the headcoach Brendan Keogh went around the room and spoke about how our team is our family, and spoke about how we are all his brothers and sisters. The first one he mentioned was me, and how we shared our first international trip together ten years ago in 1998. Our team has come so far since them, and are a much closer and far more professional unit with amazing equipment and a great support team. At the conclusion of the meeting we stood in a circle, arm in arm to sing the national athem . Then EVERYONE was tearing up with emotion. After so many months of training together THIS IS IT the day before competition starts.

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