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The Paralympics get under way today (Thurs) with the country hoping to bag as many bronze, silver and golds as possible.

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Robert ChurchillRobert Churchill

One Welling man will be watching eagerly, having helped his country to the medal rostrum in the 1984 Games. Robert Churchill won silver in the team table tennis event in New York, the last time the Paralympics have not been held in the same city as the Olympics.

It is an experience which has stuck with the 70-year-old and he was raring to go for the start of London’s offering.

“I’m delighted that the Paralympics are finally here. The Olympics were great but this feels like the real thing. It would have been great to represent my country in a home Games.”

Describing his own experience he said: “It was a very important thing to be a part of. It made the TV and was opened by Ronald Reagan. He was a big film star as well as the American president so everyone knew who he was. “British Airways flew us over there and treated us marvellously, and once we’d finished our events we stayed out to support our team-mates.”

Robert suffers from severe curvature of the spine which has affected him his whole life and he has had three limb replacements – two hips and one knee.

The New York Games acted as a forerunner to the Paralympics as they appear today, but the silver medallist is unhappy about how his brand of disability was branded “les autres”, a French phrase meaning “the others”.

He said: “Because we weren’t paraplegics, amputees or mentally disabled I don’t think we got as much coverage as we deserved. But it was a great experience nonetheless and something I’ll never forget.

“There are so many exceptional athletes. With the home crowds behind them these British athletes are going to have a great couple of weeks.”

The retired former engineer became involved in the British Table Tennis Association for the Disabled when it was formed in 1990 and was treasurer for a decade. He would often compete against non-disabled athletes on the London table tennis circuit.

Robert plays an active role in the local community by volunteering at the Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice shop on Bellegrove Road. The Marne Road resident is now the full-time carer for his mother, who turned 100 back in March.

He will be watching the events from the comfort of his own front room and unsurprisingly, table tennis is the event he will be looking out for. The sport starts today at the ExCel Arena in Newham.

He said: “I’m not going to be able to get to the Games because of the logistics involved. It’s a real shame.”

“But table tennis is close to my heart so I’ll be keeping an eye on it even though I can’t be there in person.”

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