THE term hero has become devalued in the modern world.
An actor in a panto gets flu and his stand-in becomes a hero for saving the show. A footballer does what he is paid vast amounts of money to do and scores a winning goal and becomes a hero.
Sorry, that doesn’t meet the criteria for me.
A firefighter rushing into a burning building, a policeman tackling a thug, a boy leaping into a canal to save his friend – instant reaction to dangers on the behalf of other people – these are heroes.
When astronaut Neil Armstrong died President Barack Obama described him as a hero – “not just of his time, but of all time.” Armstrong will certainly be remembered as the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But did that make him a hero in the real sense of the word?
Hero is often used as a generic term. Every serviceman and woman who is posted to Afghanistan is described as a hero, even though most of them would be the first to say: No we’re not. We’re just doing our job.
There is, of course, a special case to be made about them. While they are just doing their jobs they are often in frontline situations in danger from bullets or roadside bombs.
We acclaimed Olympic heroes who were performing at the peak of human endeavour the other week, but it perturbed me to listen to commentators equating a gold medal with how much cash the recipient would make almost as soon as they had crossed the finishing line. It devalued the concept.
The London stadia have now been taken over by a different breed of hero – 4,200 Paralympians from around the world. Few of these will be looking to become millionaires on the back of a gold medal but all of them have had a journey far greater than the miles it has taken them to get to the London venues.
These are, hopefully, the games that will take Paralympics to a new level and give the world a greater appreciation of the commitment and struggles these competitors have undergone and overcome, simply to be there. An appreciation that being disabled shouldn’t make you a second class citizen.
At the stunning opening ceremony, wheelchair-bound Professor Stephen Hawking, a sufferer from motor neurone disease, said, in that distinctive and compelling robotic voice: “The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world. 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.”
Sir Ian McKellen, playing Prospero from Shakespeare’s Tempest, encouraged the young disabled girl Miranda to fly upwards and smash through the glass ceiling of other people’s prejudices.
These games are set to do just that.
As Lord Coe put it: “Prepare to be inspired. Prepare to be dazzled. Prepare to be moved by the Paralympic Games of London 2012.”
Britain has a team of 300 and who could not be moved when they entered the stadium on Wednesday night to David Bowie’s classic song Heroes.
I shall be cheering on Ellie Simmonds, double gold winner at Beijing, and all the rest of these true heroes during the next 10 days.
We saw human endeavour at the Olympics. Now it’s time for the superhumans.