Our first stop was to the wonderful Dundonald Primary School to welcome them as the first school in Northern Ireland to join our Get Set Network in recognition of their commitment to the Olympic and Paralympic values. We were joined by 5 Star Disability Sports Challenge, an Inspire mark project that is raising awareness of disability sport and encouraging participation in sport. The team has already visited 40 schools across Northern Ireland and reached 6,000 pupils, an incredible feat given that it only began in March last year.
As the children got the chance to try out Paralympic sport it was evident that the room was brimming with sporting talent! But for me what really made this special was having local sports star, Michael McKillop, there to talk about his experiences. Michael broke the world record for the 800m in the Beijing Paralympics and the children looked on in awe as he dazzled them with his gold medal. A true inspiration and someone all of those children will remember meeting as they look out for on the podium in 2012.
Northern Ireland has a real passion for sport, and some iconic sporting heroes to boot – both of which are celebrated in the ‘All Our Saturdays’, exhibition to which I was delighted to award the Inspire mark yesterday, our fifteenth Inspire project in Northern Ireland. The exhibition showcases Northern Ireland’s sporting excellence as reported through the eyes of the historic Ireland’s Saturday Night newspaper. The exhibition will now tour libraries across Northern Ireland and while sadly the paper is no longer in existence, what better way to celebrate these sporting memories and ensure they are enshrined in history.
For me it was a trip down memory lane as growing up in Sheffield I too would rush home on a Saturday night to read the equivalent paper after competing in a local race eagerly waiting to see the results in print. I’m sure it will invoke similar nostalgia for all those that visit the exhibition and it is simply a great project and a fantastic example of the innovative and creative projects that the Games are inspiring.
Ever since my first visit back during the bid I have been hugely grateful for the consistently high level of support there is for the Games in Northern Ireland as demonstrated by a recent survey which put this at 83%, and the inspiring Olympic and Paralympic achievements of local sporting icons like Dame Mary Peters, or more recently Michael McKillop, are a huge part in driving this enthusiasm.
As we saw yesterday, thousands of people across Northern Ireland are already taking part in London 2012. Whether it is the 5 Star Disability Sport challenge that is changing perceptions of disability sport, or for those that will visit ‘All Our Saturdays’, read about iconic heroes like Dame Mary and be inspired to take up sport and follow in their footsteps – the Games is already inspiring change.
It is always a pleasure to go back to where my London 2012 journey started and yesterday was another reminder of just how far we have come.