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Mike Brace CBE, DL represented Britain in six Paralympic Games, including cross-country skiing at the very first Paralympic Winter Games in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, in 1976. Chairman of the British Paralympic Association from 2001 to 2008, Mike was a Board member of the Olympic and Paralympic 2012 Bid Team and the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) before serving on the London 2012 Diversity Board until the Games completed in 2012.

Disability is a state of mind: my state, and other people's minds! They can't do anything about my state, but hopefully, I can do something about their minds!

Mike Brace, Paralympic skier

Early life

Born in Hackney, North London, in 1950, as a boy Mike spent as much time playing sports as he did on his schoolwork.  He lost his sight aged 10 when a firework exploded in his face and then went to a school for the blind.  It was there he continued to use sport as a form of support and to aid his rehabilitation following his accident. His love of and involvement in sport has continued ever since.

Sport was my saviour really, I used sport as a way of adjusting to my sight loss

Mike tried out lots of different sports to see which he was able to adapt to and embrace – but ended up focusing on football and cricket at school.

After leaving school Mike trained as a shorthand typist and went to work in the Civil Service whilst also studying for A-Levels in English and Sociology. He also met his wife at this time, and they married in 1972. He then went on to study for a degree and started a career in social work.

At a similar time, he got together with eight of his friends from school and founded the Metro Sports Club as they were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of sport they had access to. It was then registered as a charity in 1973.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

It was as a result of the Metro Sports Club that Mike first got involved in Paralympic sport as 15 of the Metro Club members were invited to event in Norway called the Beitostolen Ski Week in 1974. This event is for cross-country skiing primarily and is specifically for blind people.  Mike really took to it and by the end of his first week skiing had managed to complete the 25k race event.

It was fantastic the freedom of movement ……. suddenly, with the skis on, you were just absolutely free as a bird

At a similar time, athletes from Metro began to be invited to the Stoke Mandeville summer games and because of that link, they then were contacted to see whether they would be interested in trialling for the first Paralympic Winter Games which were going to be held in Örnsköldsvik in Sweden in 1976. As a result, Mike was chosen as one of six skiers selected to form the first team for a Paralympic Winter Games.

Mike had an amazing experience in Örnsköldsvik.  The team competed in 4 races in the cross-country skiing – 5km, 10km, 30km and the biathlon – skiing and shooting – which was Mike’s preferred event.  A film crew from Thames Television filmed the three London athletes involved for a documentary for the ‘This Week’ programme – which made it both very special and rather surreal.

Recollections

Discovering cross-country skiing: a sense of elation

In this extract, Mike describes the exhilaration of his first experience learning to cross-country ski in Beitostølen, Norway. 

Now, I'd been on skis for five days, and then managed to complete this 25 kilometre event at the end of the first week. And that for me - I just felt so proud. All everyone has been telling you for years is that you'll never be able to do this, and never be able to do that. And suddenly you've got this sense of elation, and achievement, you're in the outdoors. It was almost a spiritual moment really, out in the mountains.

Mike competing in cross country skiing

Inner reserves: the Engadin ski marathon

Here, Mike discusses the extreme challenge of one of his most memorable races, the Engadin ski marathon in Switzerland.

By the end, I would say it's the nearest to total and utter exhaustion I've ever been. I pushed my body to the nth degree and another 10, 15% beyond that, and I don't think I'd ever want to feel quite so bad as that ever again. But it was something that you could then look back on and think, you know, I really had pushed myself to the outer limits. And that, in many ways, was another proud moment because you didn't think you could do any more. And then you did. And you didn't think you could do any more, and you did! And that's really stuck with me for the last 40 odd years. You know, it's been an incredible lesson that you can know you've got some inner reserves, you know you're going to be able to call on.

London 2012: 'A double double whammy'

Mike was chairman of Paralympics GB when London was invited to put in a bid for 2012. In this extract, he describes the excitement of receiving the phone call, and the personal significance of a London-based Games for him.

For me, one of the highlights towards the end of my active career was A) becoming chairman of Paralympics GB, but then a year into my chairmanship, getting a phone call saying, would I be supporting a bid for London 2012 for the games, and if successful, would I be on the organising committee. And, you know, by that stage, I just couldn't believe that it could get any better. I had my sporting career, and then suddenly, I'm involved in hopefully winning the the biggest sporting prize in the world for London, and being a Londoner as well, that was a double double whammy. 

Read Mike's work

Mike is the author of two books, “Where There’s A Will” and “Don’t Ask Me, Ask the Dog”. Both are available from Amazon in print and Kindle versions, and from RNIB for those with a vision impairment on talking books.

Cover of part one of Mike Braces autobiography Where theres a will   Cover of part two of Mike Braces autobiography  Dont ask me, ask the dog

Retirement as a Paralympic athlete 

Mike managed the Cross-Country Ski Team from 1988 until 1994 and, for the Nagano 1998 Winter Paralympic Games, was appointed Chef de Mission for the Great Britain Team, as a Director of ParalympicsGB he attended the Sydney 2000 Summer Paralympic Games.

Mike managed athletics teams in European and World Championships, and was Manager of the first England Blind Cricket Team, which competed in the first Blind Cricket World Cup in New Delhi, India in 1998.

Elected Chairman of the British Paralympic Association in 2001, a year later he was asked if he would support a bid for London 2012 and, if successful, to be on the organising Committee.  It was an amazing experience – being on the Committee with all those phenomenal athletes and people like Princess Anne, but it was a massive uphill struggle to get the Committee to realise the dual importance of the Olympics and Paralympics to the bid.  However, once it was accepted that they were organising two Games with the same focus, it was key to the success of the bid.  That mentality then also came through with the delivery of the Games as they started by designing a stadium for the Paralympics and then worked backwards to work out what would be needed to adapt the Olympic stadia to that format.

The Paralympics in 2012 was a watershed because it was the first time I think it was seen as a sporting event and the people happened to be disabled – it wasn’t a disabled sporting event.

In 2012 many young people were inspired by what they saw on the TV to the extent that nearly a third of the team that went to Rio were drawn from that group – who had been inspired to have a go after London 2012.  Leading to a growing challenge to the perception of disability meaning inability.

You are challenging their perceptions of themselves, as well as challenging society’s perceptions of disability.

As Chairman of the British Paralympic Association, Mike also had the role of Head of Delegation at all Paralympic Games from 2002 to 2008.

Chairman of the City of London Sport and Physical Activity Network until 2012, Mike also helped set up the UK Anti-doping Agency for sport and served as a Board Member/Director from 2009 to 2016.

In 2010, nearly 50 years after he was blinded, Mike got his first guide dog, Izzy. Meet Izzy ‘the super guidedog!’ here.

Mike feels his biggest achievements and his legacy are in setting up Metro, British Blind Sport and the British Paralympic Association.  He helped to create so many more opportunities now and they are changing many more lives, broadening the perception of what disability sports could encompass – breaking through the historical perception of disability sports as a means of rehabilitation from spinal injuries.  As a result, he was then able to co-ordinate across all disciplines of disability sport to achieve a cohesive multi-sport approach to the Paralympics.

A Trustee of The Disability Sports Development Trust, The British Judo Council Foundation, East London Vision and The Primary Club, Chairman of the Havering Vision Strategy Group, Mike is also Non-Executive Chairman of Nemisys and an investor/shareholder in Contact Engine, companies who specialise in IT solutions for companies, sporting bodies and charities.

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

Competing in six consecutive Paralympic Winter Games, from Örnsköldsvik 1976 to Lillehammer 1994, Mikes’ best finish was 7th in the Men's 4x10 km Relay B1-3 at Innsbruck 1988.

Other sporting events

In addition to the Paralympics, Mike represented Great Britain in three World and two European Championships.

During his long sporting career, Mike has tried over 50 different sports including surfing, sailing and cricket. He enjoys cricket, playing for Metro Sports Club who have been National Club, League and Cup Champions many times. National Champion at race walking for many years, Mike still holds many records for a totally blind walker.

Mike sees completing two London Marathons, two ski marathons in Norway and Switzerland and the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Marathon, a distance of over 125 miles, as his main sporting achievements.

Other awards and recognition

In 1981, Mike was invited to do an interview about blind cricket for the BBC World Service, only to find himself greeted by Eamonn Andrews, with the, then well known, red book of the popular TV series This is Your Life. Read an extract from Mike’s book, Don’t Ask Me, Ask The Dog!, about how he was set up for the show here.

In 2005 Mike was recognised in the New Year’s Honours List with an Order of the British Empire (OBE) and again, in 2009, with a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to disabled sport.

2005 also saw him awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the College of Optometrists and in 2009 an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy at London Metropolitan University.

In 2011 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and received an Honorary Doctorates in Business Administration from the Anglia Ruskin University, followed in 2015 by an Honorary Doctorate in Social Science from the University of East London. 

He was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of London in 2016.

An interview with Mike Brace

Mike Brace, CBE, DL is a former Paralympic skier and leader of disabled charities including Vision 2020 and the British Paralympic Association. He first represented Great Britain at the first Winter Paralympics in 1976.

In this interview he discusses his early life, his sporting career, and his involvement in disabled sports associations, from his own London sports club, Metro, to the British Paralympic Association and London 2012. Below are some of our favourite excerpts; you can also listen to the full interview below or download the transcript.

References
  • https://www.paralympicheritage.org.uk/mike-brace
  • http://www.mikebrace.co.uk/
  • https://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-voices/in-conversation-with-mike-brace/
  • https://aru.ac.uk/graduation-and-alumni/honorary-award-holders2/mike-brace
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXOSPg2NG5c