A FORMER disabled swimming champion has praised the people of Weymouth and Portland for ‘embracing’ the spirit of the Paralympic Games.

Ian White, 64, who carried the English Paralympic Flame when it visited the borough at the start of the Games, said the support and enthusiasm shown by people makes him ‘proud’ to live in Weymouth.

He said: “I’m not Dorset born and bred but the way the people have embraced the Paralympics makes me so proud.

“One thing about Weymouth is that people are friendly, and they stop to say hello, so I’ve noticed how much people are talking.

“When I moved here, I realised people see me as a person, not just someone in a wheelchair, and they are doing the same thing again by looking at the Paralympians as athletes, not disabled people.”

The grandfather, who has been disabled since suffering from polio when he was nine months old, is taking a special interest in the sporting events as he competed in a national competition in Stoke Mandeville in the 1960s.

He said: “I always wanted to learn to swim, and when I started, the lifeguards would carry me to the edge of the water. It was one of those pools with a spectator area, and I was embarrassed.

“That made me determined to get there myself, and eventually I began crawling in.”

Mr White added: “From there I got involved in a club, and with them I went to the gala at Stoke Mandeville.

“The first year I was disqualified because I didn’t really understand the rules, but you live and you learn. I carried on and the next year, 1968, I went on to win every race I entered.”

Though he gave up swimming competitively he continued to follow disabled sport.

“It is challenging training to be that good and I like that the Paralympics, and everything that comes with it, is highlighting how hard these athletes work. The sports arena on Weymouth beach is fantastic. I saw crowds of able-bodied people queuing to have a go at wheelchair basketball the other day.

“In the 1960s there was no such thing as the Paralympics.

“It’s wonderful that people are embracing it now, and thinking about how they can relate to people with disabilities.

“They are treating the Paralympians as equals and that’s what it’s all about.”