We are now half way through the great festival of sport, that is the Paralympics. I’ve watched blind football and wheelchair basketball, cycling from the velodrome and swimming… I could go on. I am in awe of how any athlete gets themselves mentally and physically ready for competition, to overcome a disability and become a great athlete, that I have huge respect for.
I’ve been sharing some of the games with my boys. They are yet to appreciate the pleasure of watching any kind of sport, thought the Olympics and now Paralympics has peaked their interest slightly. Cycling and archery are cool apparently and now firm favourites alongside watching Rossi in MotoGP and recognising car liveries of F1 Cars.
They haven’t really encountered many people with disabilities, they are enthralled that wheel chairs are to help people to be mobile, they want one. They also are intrigued by the concept that some people cannot see, or hear, or have less limbs than them. I suppose the concept is hard for a child to understand when they are just learning that eyes see, ears hear and they have two arms, two legs and ten toes as per the teachings at school. They are quite blasé about people with different colour skin, they don’t see colour, they seem the same about disability, they see difference, but then again, Mama has brown eyes and Daddy green, there is difference all around. I like that. Their innocence.
I digress; I was talking about the Paralympics, or the Paraplegic Games as they were once called. Prior to the games starting there was an interesting docudrama on BBC2 called The Best of Mendepicting the inception of the games, by Dr Guttman. He was a Jew from Germany, one of the top neurosurgeon’s of his era, and having escaped the Natzi’s was asked by the British Government to create the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
My paternal Grandparents had the pleasure of becoming friends with Dr Guttman, whilst my Grandfather was the Finance Director of the World Veterans Federation. The WVF had an obvious interest in injuries to ex-service personnel and the process of their rehabilitation. Given that the WVF was an international organisation they were approached to facilitate the eventual creation of the Paralympics - the first being held in Rome in 1960. My Grandfather was the link between the WVF and Stoke Mandeville. Due to his friendship with Dr Guttman, he and my Grandmother were invited to the ‘games in the ‘fifties and took my Father along with them.
I wish I could take my boys to London so they can experience the games on their doorstep. My sister is getting to watch a few events, including the athletics on the final Friday. I have friends who were at the opening ceremony and have watched a variety of events, all claiming the experience to be amazing. My boys are a little young to appreciate what is occurring in London at the moment, but as they grow older they will be told all about it and that their Great-Grandfather had a hand, at the start.
The U.S. taking on the Netherlands at basketball in the 1955 Paraplegic Games at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for spinal injuries
(Yes my Grandparents and Father are there, somewhere)