Following the BUzz news special on disability, I spoke to Paralympic swimmer Leo McCrea about living with a disability. But the question is, to what extent do the Paralympics raise awareness for those living with a disability?
Leo McCrea is a 20 year old athlete from Poole. He has been swimming competitively since he was nine years old, and trains 7-8 times a week. These sessions can be intense, with strength and conditioning training alongside studying Sports Management at BU on the sport scholarship programme.
It all pays off though, as Leo has competed for the Swiss National team on four occasions; with his latest accomplishment placing him 2nd at the World Championships 2023 in Manchester.
Leo has Achondroplasia – a form of restrictive growth and will compete in two disciplines – 100m breaststroke SBS and 100m freestyle S6.
Paris 2024 will be Leo’s second time competing in the Paralympics; he placed 5th in Tokyo 2020.
“I’m really looking forward to Paris, especially as my family can come and watch me this time. Last time there were COVID restrictions which meant there were no spectators.”
Following Tokyo 2020, a discussion was sparked as to whether the Paralympics empowers disabled people.
The Paralympics began as a small gathering in 1948. The intention was to celebrate the World War II veterans who were disabled while fighting in the war and to showcase their talents. It’s safe to say that it worked – as the Paralympics are now just as big a celebration as the Olympics.
Leo described his life while living with a disability. He exclaims that he’s lucky – he has never felt disadvantaged despite having Achondroplasia.
“I was never bullied when growing up. I did have a few comments made towards me here and there, but it was never extreme.”
The Conversation investigated the effect that the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics had on empowering disabled people. While the Paralympic Games is an elite sporting mega event, it is only short lived; a two week event every four years. Discrimination is still rampant for many disabled people, and wide ranging social and systemic changes are needed to ensure that disabled people have the same opportunities.
Like many athletes, Leo had an inspirational figure who was also a Paralympian swimmer – Ellie Simmonds; she won eight Paralympic medal and fourteen World Championship gold medals.
Leo met Ellie’s mum after she spotted him at the Dwarf Games: “When I was 6, she suggested to my parents that I should join a swim club – and now the rest is history!”
Leo wants to encourage those who are competing to keep going and to not be discouraged if living with a disability.
The Paralympics will be from 28th August until 8th September 2024.