Andy Barrow first heard about Wheelchair Rugby when he was undergoing rehabilitation treatment following a Rugby injury in 1997. After watching his first match, he was determined to start playing himself. He writes about his involvement with Team London Young Ambassadors and the need to support Paralympic sport to continue to inspire and motivate.

“I got involved with Team London late last year; I was asked to speak at City Hall about the power of volunteering. I liked everything I heard that day, they do amazing stuff, and I was keen to be involved in a more sustained way. After speaking, they asked me to become an ambassador and I was delighted to accept. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be more involved.

I would have loved a programme like Team London Young Ambassadors when I was at a school. An initiative that celebrates and supports youth engagement and empowerment, that recognises the value of what young people have to offer. I wish I’d known more about volunteering when I was young. The wider impact of volunteering on a person’s confidence and skills-base is profound.

I tell the young people I meet, like the ones at We Day, that this is not some sort of purely altruistic programme. It benefits the community and the participant. It teaches values like discipline and hard work, improves self-esteem and makes young people work in a team. Honestly, when I watch these young people in action – it is incredible. They are fearless, animated. Real forces of nature. Some people take years to develop the skill to stand up in front of people and talk openly, passionately, about what they care about. These young people have got it mastered already! It can be pretty humbling.

Some of that passion was really evident in 2012. I remember the 2005 bid – I can feel that elation like it was yesterday. I had competed at other Games before and just knew what a big deal it was for my home city and country.

Of course, we love a good moan – and it was no surprise to me when the scepticism took hold in the run-up to 2012. I mean that in the most affectionate way; but as it’s our culture to complain, it is also our culture to come together like no one else. Honestly, we have the best supporters in the whole world. And when we put our mind to something, we galvanise. It was a privilege to be supported by the public, a privilege to be in the middle of it all – it was a truly remarkable time. It is a lifelong memory that I will hold close to my heart forever.  

And let’s be honest – some of that negativity is coming out again about lack of legacy. But for me, events aren’t some easy fix, a magic wand – they are the spark, but not the complete answer. We have to use momentous events like the London 2012 Games to seek out what worked, what didn’t and then build on that. That is why events like National Paralympic Day are so brilliant – they relive some of that magic and remind us of the excitement felt, the way kids, families, everyone can feel inspired and proud to be involved.

The London 2012 Games was a step-change for Paralympic sport – but it didn’t start there and it doesn’t end there either. For me, it was actually the Sydney Games where we saw the shift starting. Paralympians are stars who happen to have a disability. They have always been brilliant role models for kids with disabilities but now they are role models for everyone. Kids have always had Beckham, but now there was another David to look-up to too!

If you can’t stand up and kick a ball, and then you see Hannah Cockroft do her thing, your outlook is going to change. We must do what we can to continue to promote that and celebrate it, it is absolutely invaluable.

And of course, disabled athletes are not perfect. Reality is actually true equality. We are not after a pat on the head – we want the accolades but make no mistake – we have the same fierce spirit as other non-disabled athletes.

See some of that competitiveness in action this weekend at National Paralympic Day. I, for one, cannot wait.