CARLUKE wheelchair athletics star Karen Lewis-Archer, who represented Great Britain at two Paralympic Games during her glorious career, saw at first-hand why the latest Games in London were widely acknowledged as being the best ever.
The now retired Karen (37), got to carry the Paralympic torch at Hackney on opening ceremony day and also did four days of sterling commentary work for Channel 4 television during the Games.
“Carrying the torch was one of the best days of my life,” said Karen.
“Seeing all the people lining the streets was absolutely fantastic.
“I was only meant to carry the torch for 130m but I’m sure I actually carried it for a quarter of a mile!
“Doing the commentary was also very enjoyable, especially watching British athlete David Weir win his 800m and marathon races.
“For him to come away with a total of four gold medals (he also triumphed in the T54 1500m and 5000m) was fantastic, not just for the Paralympics but for wheelchair racing. Achievements like that have changed people’s opinions about disability for the better.”
Karen’s Paralympic outings came in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, with her Australian adventure seeing her finish an agonising fourth in both the 100m and 400m. She believes that the Sydney Games of 2000 helped elevate the Paralympics to another level, but thinks that its latest staging – featuring stars like South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius – has taken it into the stratosphere.
“I remember competing in front of 75,000 people at finals in the Sydney athletics stadium,” Karen said.
“But even at the warm-up events in London the stadium was packed with 80,000. For the Paralympics that was great.”
Karen said that another highlight of her time in London was getting the chance to have a chat with cult TV presenter Timmy Mallett, when watching the boccia competition at the London ExCel.
“It was quite funny briefing Timmy on disabled sport,” Karen said. “I found him to be a lovely guy who was very interested in the competition.
“He said he couldn’t believe how much this country had got behind the Paralympics.
“He was really enjoying it and said that the atmosphere was phenomenal.”
Karen – who these days lives in Newcastle and works as a senior sports development officer for North Tyneside Council – said that her phone had been “red hot” since the Paralympics.
“People from Carluke have been phoning me and asking how they can get involved in swimming,” she added.
“It will be great for the fitness of the nation if we can get more people taking part in sport.”
Karen is pleased that more and more Paralympic track athletes like Oscar Pistorius and David Weir are becoming celebrities.
She added: “In my days competing it was always Tanni Grey-Thompson who got the headlines for her exploits on the track.
“But now there are a number of British Paralympic athletes who have become household names, thanks to what was a hugely successful Games in London.”