Here’s to the Paralympics! (Ros' Blog)
This week’s blog post takes the form of an interview with Michael Sharkey, a visually impaired athlete who was part of the Team GB goal ball team at the London Paralympics.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I grew up in Buckinghamshire, in a Christian family, and for some of the time I went to a school for visually impaired students in Worcester. It was there that I discovered goal ball and was able to participate in sports more seriously than ever before. It was also significant because I did A level biology there, which enabled me to go on and study physiotherapy at Birmingham University, and also because I met my wife there, although we didn’t start going out until some years later. Now I have been working as a physiotherapist for ten years. It’s a lovely job because I’m helping people, making a difference, and because it’s enabled me to go on a couple of Wheels for the World trips with Through the Roof.
When and how did you become a Christian?
Because I grew up in a Christian home, I had always accepted that the Christian faith was true. But at university I tried out different churches, and found some that were very different from my Anglican background. They had a more charismatic style of worship and used electric guitars, which was new and appealing to me, and during that process I really made my faith my own, and discovered from some of these churches the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.
When did you begin playing goal ball professionally?
I first played for Great Britain in 2002. But of course the highlight came ten years later, being able to take part in the London 2012 Paralympics. It was in 2005 when the decision was made to award the Olympics to London. I remember it well because I was a student at the time, and I was actually treating a patient, with the radio on in the background, trying to concentrate half on what the radio was saying, and half on my patient who was on an exercise bike. When they announced that the Olympics was going to London I shouted, “Yes!” and did a little jig. And everyone wondered what my patient had done on the exercise bike that was so exciting! But even after that, it wasn’t until March 2005 that we learned the goal ball team was definitely going to the Paralympics, so that was also a very exciting moment.
The Paralympics turned out to be every bit as incredible and amazing as you would hope. I wondered beforehand, after working so hard for so many years would it be utterly wonderful or terrifying? But it was really incredible. There were all the different flags hanging from all the rooms in the Olympic Village, and a massive food hall the size of an airport terminal. It had to cater for athletes from all over the world, so you could sample every kind of food imaginable.
I had never played in front of more than two hundred people before, and at the Paralympics there were crowds of seven thousand watching us. But it didn’t put me off; in fact I thoroughly enjoyed the crowd and played the best goal ball I’d ever played.
I saw God at work, too. I had a friend on the team who was a bit of a lad, a very different character from me but we got on really well. The night before the first game he had an accident and twisted his ankle which swelled and ballooned up. I examined it, and I knew as a physiotherapist that an injury of that type ruled him out of the Paralympics. I asked him if I could pray for his ankle, and he said yes. I prayed and he was miraculously healed. He had to rest it the next day but was able to play from the second day onwards. I hope that he might look back one day and remember that and see that God is real.
What would you say to a disabled person who might be wondering if or how God could use them?
This reminds me of when I went to Kenya with Wheels for the World. This is a question that arises quite often there. One of my best moments was being able to talk first to a waiting room full of disabled people and then to a congregation of Kenyan people in church about the story from John chapter 9 where Jesus heals a man who was born blind. Jesus was asked whether the man or his parents had sinned that he was born blind, and He replied that it was not the result of anyone’s sin but so that God’s good works could be shown in him. That is very different from what people hear in Kenya, that sin is not only not a curse or punishment as they are taught, but that God wants to show His good works in disabled people.
But it also applies back here. Disabled people can use their talents and serve in the church, and in fact many of them may not realise how much they already inspire and encourage people. So I would urge them to seek out God’s purpose for them and find out what He wants them to do, and then serve Him.
Is there a Bible verse that particularly inspires you?
I think I’d have to say it’s this same passage in John 9. I love the idea of God’s good works being shown through disabled people. I love sharing it with disabled people whether in Kenya or the UK who have been taught a prosperity Gospel which focuses on having to be physically healed, and I hope it makes them see their disability differently. When I talk about playing sport and goalball, it’s the greatest form of worship anyone can do, to explore a talent God has given them and develop it to their best ability. So I think my message would be enjoy your talent and do it for God, it’s the best form of worship you can engage in.