Growth of Paralympics is no surprise to former team manager Bill Berry

THE increasing success and popularity of the Paralympics has come as no surprise to Bill Berry.

After serving as team manager at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996, the 69-year-old from Moreton-on-Lugg is well placed to comment.

"It has been building ever since 1988 and has got progressively bigger," he said.

"The fact that it is now linked with the Olympics has helped, as has the television coverage.

"Sad to say also, there are far more injured and maimed athletes and that goes to make it a bigger event, too.

"When I managed the team, it was a part-time role but now it's an important, paid position.

"All that can stop the growth of the Paralympics are the logistical constraints - there are lots of politics behind the scenes and all of the individual sports are, understandably, fighting their corners."

Berry describes his appointment as athletics coordinator and team manager for Atlanta as the 'greatest honour I would achieve in my sporting life', but it was a culmination of a lifelong involvement in athletics and coaching.

He was still an active runner himslef when he began coaching able-bodied athletes in 1978 before a request to coach partially-sighted runner Neil Pearson opened up another direction.

Attending coach weekends with British Blind Sport brought him into contact with other coaches and partially-sighted athletes and he went on his first international trip as a coach when he was part of the coaching team for the Great Britain Visually Impaired team at the European Championships in Rome in 1985.

"Coaching a disabled athlete is different to coaching an able-bodied athlete," said Berry. "It's more a case of thinking things through and what might happen whereas with an able-bodied athlete it's offering direction."

He also coached the next European Championships in Moscow and was then invited to join the GB Paralympic team as manager of the BBS athletes at the Seoul Paralympics.

Star of the BBS athletic team was Bob Matthews who won gold in the 800m, 1,500m and 5,000m and he later became one of the athletes coached by Berry, who had by now moved to Herefordshire after being based previously in the West Midlands at Wordsley.

Berry had come to the county in 1985 and Matthews subsequently followed in 1991 when he came to study at the Royal National College and asked Berry to take on his coaching.

Berry managed the BBS team at the World Youth Games in St Etienne in 1990 and continued his involvement with the Paralympics at Barcelona in 1992 when he took over as athletics team manager and Matthews won gold in the 5,000m as well as silver and bronze in the 1,500m and 800m respectively.

Although he ended his administrative career after the Atlanta Paralympics, that was far from the end of his own sporting involvement.

He began coaching a 'Tuesday group' of local runners in 1990, and that still continues.

He also turned his attention to cycling and took part in time trials with Hereford Wheelers which satisfied his competitive instinct.

"I don't train anymore now," he admitted. "And it's like getting rid of a millstone around my neck. I could be a bit obsessive about it."

But he still cycles regularly as a member of the Wednesday Wheelers, who cycle out to Weobley for coffee and cake and then go for a tour.

"Most of the group are in their mid to late-60s, so we drink coffee and moan about our ailments," he laughed.

He is also involved in coaching triathletes, one of whom, Kathryn King will be be taking part in the World Iron Man Championships in Hawaii later this year.

"I think she will do very well in her age group," he said.

Berry has also written a small book about his lifetime's involvement with sport as a tribute to a cycling friend Alan Hill, who died in St Michael's Hospice which benefits from the sales of the book. To buy a copy, at £5, visit the hospice shop at st-michaels-hospice.org.uk and search for Bill Berry, A Lifetime of Sport.

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