With only a week to go till the London 2012 Paralympics begin, we thought we would take a moment and remember past Blind Veterans UK members who participated in a wide range of sporting activities long before the formal beginnings of the Paralympics.
Did you know that the term Paralympic was first officially used at the 1988 games, however the first Olympics which brought together athletes who were blind, amputees and in wheelchairs was that in Toronto in 1976, at which past Blind Veterans UK member Tony Parkinson and current member Ray Peart took part.
The birthplace of the Paralympic movement is usually recognised as Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire where Sir Ludwig Guttman, Director of the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, organised the ‘Stoke Mandeville Games’ for Second World War veterans. Guttman’s work was very important but he was not the first to organise competitive sport for a disabled group, for which Blind Veterans UK had an important and pioneering role.
The location of our headquarters and main training centre in our early years in Regent’s Park was ideal for a wide range of activities such as rowing – a sport very popular with members that developed into challenge matches against other organisations and an annual regatta on the Thames – as well as other sports including swimming, water-polo, competitive walking and tandem cycling. There was also an annual sports day, where hundreds of members took part in games such as cricket ball, obstacle races, skipping, putting weights, the 100 yards relay and tug of war!
Football, unsurprisingly, was also very popular. The Arsenal, Everton and Sunderland teams all visited Regent’s Park to test their skills against our members. We also had a challenge cup tournament with several teams. Check out the photo of past Arsenal and England goalkeeper, Ernest Williamson who kindly kept goal in a number of the challenge cup finals…
Our involvement in sport is a long and fascinating story, and included participation in a team led by Sir Ludwig Guttman at an International Games for the Disabled in France in 1969, as well as many appearances in events at the Stoke Mandeville Games. We have other connections with Stoke Mandeville Hospital too, as our own Second World War Hospital Unit was based there from 1944 until the end of the war.
Be sure to check out our Flickr page for more interesting photos we uncovered from the archive!
For more information about Stoke Mandeville and the history of the Paralympics, visit the Mandeville Legacy website, www.mandevillelegacy.org.uk.