Steve Baldwin, U.S. Men's Team member, blogs from the 2012 Paralympics in London.
© Jeremiah Yolkut
By Steve Baldwin, special to USTA.com
We arrived sometime in the hazy, circadian-bashing hours of Friday morning. Friday will remain my definitive answer to the question: "What is a mixed blessing?" I, like many others – or so I imagine - find myself particularly unhinged by transatlantic travel: The physical fatigue, the weird sense of displacement… that odd feeling that surely, somehow, you must have slept sometime which is continually contradicted by the stiffness in your back and your dried-out, unfocusing eyeballs.
On the other hand, this was no ordinary arrival. This was the Paralympics, baby! And while my body has adjusted rather rapidly to the schedules and clocks of London, I am still trying to wrap my mind around it.
I have never seen so many disabled people in one place in my life. When I first started playing wheelchair tennis, one of the things that I found comforting was the simple presence of other people in wheelchairs. It can be strange sometimes being the only person like yourself that you encounter in the course of any given day. At tennis tournaments, that feeling of isolation could be assuaged; here, simply, were people who seemed more like me (it was only later that I learned that tennis has just as many personalities, conflicts, friendships, et cetera as other arbitrary groupings of humans).
Yet here at the Paralympics, that idea is rendered almost irrelevant by the sheer mass of numbers. Approximately 4200 athletes, God-knows-how-many-more support staff, which seems a most ungenerous term to me; put simply, without support staff I would be:
A) Lost at the airport,
B) Wandering the streets trying to find this place, or
C) Sobbing uncontrollably, as the simple task of getting my outfit for the Opening Ceremony collided with travel-induced exhaustion.
This is a city of disability, vast in its way, international in the extreme, with everyday seeing new arrivals. As yet, I have not been able to make much acquaintance; it is early, and everyone seems to be focused on getting themselves settled by establishing training regimens, concentrating on the competitive tasks at hand. While I have been glad at seeing tennis players from other nations as I have encountered them, it seems as if, at this early stage, we are still primarily rivals. In the dining hall -- the biggest, most diverse cafeteria I have ever seen -- the Belgians eat with the Belgians, the Namibians with the Namibians, the Americans with the Americans.
We are no different yet; we eat, we train, we meet, we eat, we train. This is good; the establishment of this routine has probably done more than anything in helping me get over jet lag. We have all, in our way, taken a long road to get here. It is important to remember that we all still have some work to do.