Norfolk’s Paralympians gear up for the Paralympic Games

The Paralympic Games are here - and it is time to get behind our Paralympians.

Once again, the world's eyes are set to focus on London, this time for the Paralympics.

And after the huge success of the Olympics, the Paralympic Games are set to be bigger and better than ever.

A record number of 4,200 athletes from 166 countries are taking part in the London 2012 Paralympics which will see medals won across 20 different sports.

The event will kick-off tonight with the closing ceremony which is expected to be watched by millions of people around the globe.

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Entitled Enlightenment, the ceremony, directed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, will feature more than 3,000 volunteers including 50 disabled performers who have been learning circus skills from scratch.

In a groundbreaking, inclusive staging, the ceremony will showcase the excellence of deaf and disabled artists and will open with a fly past by Aerobility, a British charity that trains disabled people to become pilots.

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As part of the ceremony, there will also be a parade of all competing nations and the highly-anticipated entrance of the Paralympic flame, which will ignites the cauldron and signal the start of the Games.

It will then be time for the people of Norfolk to get behind our British athletes and Norfolk's own Paralympians - Norwich's wheelchair basketballer Amy Conroy, goalball player Amy Ottaway, also from Norwich, Wymondham's archer Kenny Allen, Taverham archer Mel Clarke, Great Yarmouth swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate and Walpole St Andrew track cyclist Jody Cundy MBE.

For some, it will be a return to the greatest sporting event in the world but for others, it will be their first opportunity to make their mark on the Paralympic Games.

Those making their Paralympic debut include Amy Conroy. The Paralympic Games signal a massive stepping stone in the teenager's life.

For when she was 13, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma - a form of bone cancer - and, despite a course of chemotherapy, her left leg had to be amputated. Crushing news for anybody, but for a child whose first passion was sport, it was particularly devastating.

But after specialist rehabilitative care, the youngster discovered wheelchair basketball - something which changed her life.

The sport helped the former Notre Dame High School pupil rebuild her confidence and has now led her to compete against the world's best in front of a global audience.

Her family last night said they were nervous and excited for her.

Amy's sister Alice, 16, a pupil at Notre Dame High School and who has been given an opportunity to work as a reporter for the Paralympic Post over the course of the Paralympic Games, said: 'I'm really excited for her, I can't wait. I'm also really nervous for her, more nervous than what I thought I would be.

'I know how hard she's worked for it and how much she has given to it.'

Alice, who will turn 17 on Sunday, will be watching from the sidelines with their dad Chris. The teenager, who lives off Dereham Road in Norwich, said she has seen first hand how basketball has transformed her sister's life.

'When she first lost her leg, it was a lot harder for her and she was quite embarrassed by it. Through finding basketball, it really changed her as a person and she is really proud of it,' added Alice, whose sister used to play with the Green Canaries at Recreation Road.

'She has got a lot more confident by doing basketball and absolutely loves it. It is her whole life now and you can tell on the court when she is really loving it.'

Amy's Paralympic campaign with the Great British women's wheelchair basketball team will start tomorrow when the team takes on Netherlands.

Meanwhile, Wymondham's Kenny Allen is also looking forward to making his mark on the Paralympic Games.

The 42-year-old, who has spina bifida occulta and only started archery six years ago, is hoping to be on target to finish in at least the top 10.

The married father-of-two, who is supported by Foresters Friendly Society, said: 'I've never shot in front of that many people before.

'It's going to be exciting. As a nation, we have done ourselves proud with the Olympic Games and we will do ourselves just as proud with the Paralympics. I want to go out there and shoot my arrows and do the best I can.'

And while competing at the Paralympic Games may not be anything new for Jody Cundy, a former Paralympic swimming champion who switched to para-cycling in 2006, he is excited about competing in front of a home crowd.

The 33-year-old, who last week unveiled a new customised prosthetic leg featuring a Union Flag, said: 'After watching the Olympics, all I can say is it's one of those things that any athlete can only dream of.

'To have the chance to compete in the Paralympics, when you're in your sporting prime, and for them to be happening in your home country, when the whole population is in the grip of Olympic and Paralympic fever - you just couldn't imagine anything more. Excited doesn't even begin to cover it.'

Don't miss all of the action from the Paralympic Games on this website and in the newspaper.

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