Sport13th October 2013
John Harris Paralympian
Veteran Paralympian John Harris provides inspiration to groups across the UK, here we find out a little more about his story
At 67 years of age, (I dare not say years old) and having been in a wheelchair for nearly 49 of them, John Harris should be slowing down, he's not. "Life's too short to sit idly twiddling your thumbs," explains John, "you never know what's just around the corner, so make the most of the good times."
A gold, silver and bronze medallist from the 1984 and 1988 Paralympic Games, John Harris took part in five Paralympics and has maintained an active interest in all things disabled sport ever since. Many of the people who know John, regard him as a super star in Paralympic Sport, not just for his achievements, but because he was instrumental in bringing wheelchair sport to the fore. In respect of wheelchair athletic success in the UK ever since, the rest so they say, is history.
At 67, John puts most of us to shame. "I treat my body as a temple," he says with an impish grin, but John still goes to the gym three times a week, and he trains with the intensity of a man half his age. One of life's true rocks, John is as reliable as they come, warm, friendly and highly dependable, everyone would benefit from having a John Harris in their lives.
Since hanging up his competition wheelchair, John has made a huge impact at schools, colleges and business events throughout the UK and wider afield, as an inspirational speaker. Funny and impressively articulate, John impresses everyone with his honest, no nonsense reflections on his life, and his time as an elite athlete. His grit, determination and mental fortitude, mesmerise many of the people who listen to him, and it is easy to see why John has been so successful over so many years.
So at 67 he is finally going to slow down, right? "Not a chance", he says, "I've just started a new business to promote and look after Paralympic athletes." Initially called Motivational Paralympians, John has had to change the name to PJS Speakers Ltd, to avoid running into conflict with those behind the 2012 Games. "It has been fantastic to get up in the morning and get straight into making a difference for some of these bright up-coming stars. Because I was disabled, a lot of the work I did speaking in schools, colleges, and at business events, was for free. I felt that because I was in a chair, no one put a 'value' on my time and effort. That was wrong, and I intend to work tirelessly to make sure the legacy of the 2012 Paralympics, is that disabled stars get the monetary recognition they deserve".
John is delighted with the progress of the business, already managing 21 sports people, and not just Paralympians. "PJS speakers also has 2 Olympians, a disabled car racer, a coach, adventurer and an actress on our books," explains John. With John’s reputation and desire to succeed, it would be a brave man that bets against him succeeding in this venture, but at least this will give him something else to talk about during his inspirational presentations for the next 20 years!
With his background and pedigree, SL First was interested to find out John's reflections on the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. "All in all, I thought it was fantastic", John said. "London did us proud, the athletes were phenomenal, and the TV coverage, simply outstanding". John talked excitedly about some of the performances, and being a field athlete, John delighted in the success of his fellow Welshman Aled Davies, "that's the way to celebrate", chortled John. "Aled announced his arrival into the Paralympics in the best way possible, and he's certainly one to watch out for in Rio. And I'm not just saying that because he's signed up to PJS Speakers either."
John felt there were a series of remarkable performances, but he holds one athlete up as a super star, and that is David Weir. "To win all four, when everyone else in the field is trying to block you, and spoil your race, is just incredible," John explained, "so I just don't get how David wasn't in the top 3 for BBC Sports Personality. It's clear that some of the public just don't get the Paralympics."
Things have improved no end since John's competitive days, when he was allocated a top bunk, or had to sleep in building sites because the organisers were dismantling the Olympic village, but John still feels there is a long way to go. "I'm delighted that there is going to be a legacy programme to make sure we take forward the momentum of 2012", enthused John, "but it's important that we don't kid ourselves. Life is what we make it, but people's attitude to disability, either helps or hinders, and sadly, I still see prejudice and discrimination every day."
"Through PJS Speakers, I'm going to continue to do my best to inform the debate and make a difference," John offered determinedly. If you would like to know more about John's new venture, PJS Speakers Ltd, you can find details at www.pjs-speakers.co.uk
Article by Simon Deacy OBE
posted in Deaf Sport / Sport
13th October 2013