> Lee Pearson
Age: 37 From: Staffs Event: Dressage
■ Lee Pearson is a nine-time gold medal-winning paraequestrian. He was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital condition that means his legs are encased in plastic and his arm muscles thin and twisted. He took up riding in 1997 and two years later won three golds at the World Championships. He repeated the feat at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, and did the same at Athens and Beijing. He is aiming to do it all again in 12 months’ time.
“I was a very ignorant, uneducated person about other disabled people. I used to cross the street because I didn’t want to look like a disabled persons’ day out. I thought if I ended up walking next to a wheelchair, people would think we were a couple.
“Going to the Paralympics changed me. Just accepting people for what they are. And I became a much nicer, better person.
“The Paralympic village is like whacky races gone mad – 3,000 athletes with every form of mobility vehicle, Americans with bionic legs and arms, Ethiopians with tree branches they’ve varnished and fashioned into crutches. I was like: dropped jaw. This is phenomenal. It’s the most mindblowing environment you can be in because all this disability becomes totally normal.
“I do wish commentators focused a bit more on the disabilities we have because I’m really intrigued by what’s wrong with people. You see them run or ride and they don’t look disabled.
“I am a freak of nature and I’m proud of that – because I’ve become an amazing sportsman, not because of my twisted limbs.
“If you’re Chris Hoy you’ll always be an Olympian, that’s your label. When you’re a Paralympian, you can be a disabled person or a Paralympian depending on what environment you’re in. You need quite a lot of inner confidence to deal with that.
“If I work my butt off, have lady luck on my side and if there isn’t a better competitor with a better horse on the day, then next year I should repeat what I’ve done: two individual medals and a team gold – if my team members also come up with the goods. If any of those factors are missing I might win a silver or bronze or I might not even medal.
“If I win a medal I’ll be the happiest person alive.
“Thinking about it makes me feel sick. I haven’t got a horse sorted. The media and public interest is going to get more and more, which is great, and I just want it to be over and done with because of the expectation.
“It’s going to be life-changing, and a humungous change for the Paralympics to have individual coverage. I do see the Paralympics as a sister sport, not anything less or more, but it is overshadowed just by the logistics of the Olympics.
“I’ve seen the progression of interest in the Paralympics and I’ve never ever had this much ongoing interest before a Games.
“I broke my back in four places 15 weeks ago in a riding accident. But I rode last week and it wasn’t painful.
“I like my horses to be quite pretentious. You’ve got to go into the arena and out-ride other riders and then go to the judges: ‘I’m here, now give me a nine or a 10’.”
Channel 4 is the official host broadcaster for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Lee Pearson appears in ‘Best of British’, the new 10-part documentary series airing this autumn on Channel 4 following Paralympians on the road to 2012. For more information, visit www.channel4.com/paralympics
> Ellie Simmonds
Age: 16 From: Walsall Event: Swimming
Simmonds was just 13 years old when she competed in her first Paralympics in Beijing in 2008. She went onto win gold in both the 100m and 400m freestyle swimming.
Simmonds, who has Achondroplasia, a common form of short-limb dwarfism, is currently studying at secondary school in Swansea.
She won the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award in 2008 and a year later became the youngest person to be awarded an MBE.
But it is in the pool where she excels and has won 16 gold medals at the European Championships, World Championships and Paralympic World Cup.
> David Weir
Event: Wheelchair Athletics
Versatile Weir is rated Britain’s top wheelchair athlete – not least because he holds the national record in all track distances up to 5,000m. He won four medals – two golds, a silver and a bronze – at the 2008 Games in Beijing, his third Paralympics.
He also won silver and bronze at the 2004 event in Athens, as well as three golds and a silver at the 2006 Paralympic World Championships in Assen.
But British fans may know him best for his achievements around the streets of London. Weir has won the London marathon five times, including three in a row between 2006 and 2008. In 2009 he was awarded an MBE.
> Sarah Storey
Storey has acheieved the remarkable feat of winning Paralympic gold at two different disciplines, having switched from swimming to cycling before the last Games in Beijing.
Storey, who was born without a left hand, won a total of six swimming medals at her first Games in Barcelona in 1992, including two gold.
She won further medals at Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, before an ear infection forced her to swap the pool for the track.
Two golds, in the time trial and individual pursuit, followed in Beijing. In 2010 she qualified to join the England team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where she became the first disabled cyclist to compete for England at the Commonwealth Games against fully able-bodied cyclists.
She is married to fellow Paralympic cyclist Barney Storey.
> Tom Aggar
Age: 27 From: London Event: Rowing
Aggar was a keen rugby player while at Warwick University and a member of the Saracens development squad before a night out with friends in 2005 ended his rugby career.
He slipped and fell eight feet on to a concrete path. Thinking that he had headed home alone his friends left, and when he regained consciousness two hours later Aggar phoned for an ambulance. In his fall he had broken his back and suffered a spinal injury, resulting in paralysis of his legs.
Determined to find an outlet for his competitive instincts, he took up rowing in 2006 as part of his rehabilitation programme.
The following year, at the World Rowing Championships in Munich, he won gold in the 1000m single scull. He made his Paralympic Games debut in Beijing and won gold in the same discipline.