Paralympic spirit lives on at the National Spinal Injuries Centre based at Stoke Mandeville Hospital
As the 2016 Paralympics Games gets under way in Rio, the world famous national spinal injuries centre (NSIC) based at Stoke Mandeville Hospital will be cheering on the array of athletes who were once patients at the unit.
A number of the athletes competing in the Paralympics started their journey at the NSIC. In 2016 they include Issy Bailey taking part in her first games in the shooting competition and fifth time veteran Clare Griffiths, one of the most celebrated wheelchair basketball players of all time.
The athletes are continuing the legacy of Sir Ludwig ‘Poppa’ Guttmann whose visionary ethos of using sport in the recovery and reintegration back into society for people with spinal injuries and planted the seed for a humble sporting event which grew into the worldwide event it is today.
It was in 1948, on the lawns of Stoke Mandeville Hospital, that Dr Guttmann organised an archery competition for 16 paralysed men and women to coincide with the opening ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in London. And so the Stoke Mandeville Games for wheelchair athletes began and the Paralympic movement was born.
The inaugural Paralympic Games took place in Rome in 1960 where Margaret Maughan, a Stoke Mandeville patient, was the first British gold medal winner and who, 52 years later, lit the London 2012 Paralympic Cauldron.
Margaret remembers that she only knew she had won a gold medal for archery when she was hurriedly called off the team bus and hastily wheeled to a podium where the medal was handed to her ‘in a very nice, leather box‘. She recalls: ‘The competition had been a bit rushed and volunteers just handed me back my arrows without ever telling me the scores! I had no idea I had won. When I got back on the bus, nobody said ‘well done’ or anything because they didn’t know either!‘
Says Margaret: ‘I feel very proud to have been at the start of all this from just a little team of 70 people in wheelchairs when now there are hundreds from all disabilities. I will be watching it as always and wish good luck to everyone. I will tell them to enjoy it, and make friends. I really hope they do well.‘
Dot Tussler, head of physiotherapy at the NSIC, said: ‘It is always a proud moment for all of us when someone we knew from the early days of their injury goes on to represent Great Britain. We will be watching and cheering them on. They are an inspiration to all of us and to our patients. We see the same spirit every day in our patients. Not all of them will go on to compete in the Paralympics, but the determination of the Paralympians is extremely inspiring for them.‘