Category Archives: Disability Sport

Title: Pioneers of Disability Sport

Hub Image:

Example image of Pioneers of Disability Sport

Summary: Global awareness of disability sport is at an all-time high. Following the success of London’s 2012 Paralympics – arguably the biggest and most wide reaching event of its kind so far – and Rio 2016, games for the disabled have been placed on the same pedestal as non-disabled events. As a result, disabled athletes have finally started to receive the same reverence as able-bodied athletes, becoming not just recognised for triumphs over adversity, but for their achievements as competitors and athletes.

Meta Title: Pioneers of Disability Sport

Meta Description: Global awareness of disability sport is at an all-time high, check out the pioneers of disability sport from Bristol Street Versa.

Article:


The Pioneers of Disability SportGlobal awareness of disability sport is at an all-time high. Following the success of London’s 2012 Paralympics – arguably the biggest and most wide reaching event of its kind so far –  and Rio 2016, games for the disabled have been placed on the same pedestal as non-disabled events. As a result, disabled athletes have finally started to receive the same reverence as able-bodied athletes, becoming not just recognised for triumphs over adversity, but for their achievements as competitors and athletes.

However, the route to recognition has been a long one for disabled athletes. Before the Paralympics became a pathway for the creation of pop-culture icons, organised sports for the disabled were few and far between, viewed as marginal pursuits, or in many cases simply non-existent.

This isn’t to say that those with physical disabilities didn’t compete in sporting events before the creation of the Paralympics, but that the opportunities to do so were slim. One of the earliest recorded organised events occurred in New York in 1911. Although the name of the event – the “Cripples Olympiad” – reflects prejudices of the time, press reports of the games were positive. The Welshman Walter William Francis was particularly praised for his achievements, winning the running and wresting events and being described as an “extraordinary personality”. Francis was somewhat of a minor icon of the times, competing in rugby, football, and wrestling, swimming 15 miles across the Welsh channel, and seemingly never letting his disability get in the way of any potential achievements.

As events like the “Cripples Olympiad” were far from regular, the physically disabled in the early 20th century had little platform to compete in sports. However, this didn’t put athletes off from competing in events, as seen with the German-American George Eyser. A single leg amputee, Eyser was most likely the first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympics. Despite his disability, Eyser excelled at gymnastics, walking away from the 1904 games with 6 medals. Eyser also held the distinction of being the only prosthesis wearer to compete in the Olympics for 104 years, with South African swimmer Natalie du Toit becoming the second in 2008.

The true beginnings of organised disability sports lay with Frenchman Eugène Rubens-Alcais. Eugene was both a keen sportsman and deaf, and throughout his life campaigned for the rights of the deaf community. After founding the Cycling Club of the Deaf and Dumb in 1899, and the Sports Federation of the Deaf and Dumb in 1918, Eugene organised the “First International Silent Games” in 1924. Held in Paris, the games were an equivalent of the Olympics designed specifically for deaf athletes, and the first officially recognised international games for athletes with a disability. Now known as the Deaflympics, the games were a first step for organised disability sports, and have been held every 4 years since the first games.

The next significant milestone is rooted in the fallout of the Second Word War. Dr Ludwig Guttman, who had fled the Nazis in 1939, was a neurologist based at the spinal injuries centre at Stoke Mandeville hospital, mostly treating veterans injured fighting in the war. Guttman believed that sport could be a therapeutic practice for those with spinal injuries, and as far back as 1945 was encouraging patients to participate in games. In 1948, Guttman organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for amputees and wheelchair users. At first composed solely of just British participants, in the following years other countries began to participate, and the set of events grew larger, becoming the International Stoke Mandeville Games. By 1960, the Olympic Committee had begun to take note, and in that year the Stoke Mandeville games were held alongside the summer Olympics officially for the first time. This was to be a landmark for organised sport for the disabled, and the beginning of the Paralympics – although this name was used officially for the first time at the 1988 Seoul games.

With the foundation of the Paralympics, awareness of disability sport finally started to grow. With the increased recognition of achievements in this wider platform, opportunities for the disabled have widened into other areas. Outside the field of athletics, disabled motorsports has seen huge progress in the past 20 years. As recently as the 1980’s, those with disabilities had been banned from circuit and touring car racing. However, with the establishment of the British Motor Sports Association for the Disabled in 1987, progress has been made, and racing competitions for the disabled now exist. Disabled drivers are now also just beginning to break into top flight competitions, competing alongside non-disabled drivers. In June 2015 Nicolas Hamilton – who has cerabral palsy – competed in the British Touring Car Championships; the first disabled driver to do so.

In the past century, progress has been made to try make sure that the disabled are not barred from pursuing sporting goals and ambitions. However, the road to equality and recognition has by no mean been fully walked; something today’s and tomorrows pioneers will make sure of.

Author: Tom

Title: A to Z of Wheelchair Rugby

Hub Image:

Example image of A to Z of Wheelchair Rugby

Summary: Wheelchair rugby has fast become one of the most exciting spectator sports around, with its crashes, tackles and enigmatic athletes pulling big crowds up and down the UK. If you’ve never watched wheelchair rugby, or just want to get to grips with the sport, we’ve put a beginner’s guide to wheelchair rugby together. Our A to Z of wheelchair rugby takes a look at the basics and clears up a few important questions about the sport.

Meta Title: A to Z of Wheelchair Rugby

Meta Description: Want to find out more about wheelchair rugby? Take a look at Bristol Street Versa's A-Z of Wheelchair Rugby guide.

Article:

With the final stages of the Rugby World Cup drawing near, October 2015 is set to provide a feast of tries and tackles for Rugby fans around the world.

However, the Rugby World Cup isn’t the only big sport event taking place, and between the 12th and 16th of October 2015 the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge takes place in London. Following on from their stellar performance at the London 2012 Paralympics, the Great Britain squad will return to Olympic Park to take on 7 other giants of the sport.

Wheelchair rugby has fast become one of the most exciting spectator sports around, with its crashes, tackles and enigmatic athletes pulling big crowds up and down the UK. For many people it might seem like wheelchair rugby has come out of nowhere, but the popularity of the sport hasn’t just emerged overnight. For over 30 years, quadriplegic athletes have been drawn to the intense nature of wheelchair rugby, which stands out amongst other disability sports for the fact that it is full contact.

If you’ve never watched wheelchair rugby, or just want to get to grips with the sport, we’ve put a beginner’s guide to wheelchair rugby together. Our A to Z of wheelchair rugby takes a look at the basics and clears up a few important questions about the sport; take a look at it below.

BSV - Wheelchair Rugby - 2

Author: Tom

Title: A Conversation with John Harris

Hub Image:

Example image of A Conversation with John Harris

Summary: Paralympian, fundraiser, and mountaineer; it’s safe to say that John Harris has led a pretty eventful life. With this in mind, Bristol Street Versa got in touch with John to talk about gold medals, raising awareness of disabled people in sport, and what he thinks of today’s up and coming athletes.

Meta Title: A Conversation with John Harris

Meta Description: Wheelchair athlete John Harris talks to Bristol Street Versa aboutlife changing accidents, the Paralympics, and what it feels like to win a gold medal.

Article:

 

John Harris

Paralympian, fundraiser, and mountaineer; it’s safe to say that John Harris has led a pretty eventful life. With this in mind, Bristol Street Versa got in touch with John to talk about gold medals, raising awareness of disabled people in sport, and what he thinks of today’s up and coming athletes. Take a look at our conversation with the pioneer of disability sport below.

“I was born in a little village in south Wales called Pantygasseg. There were about 50 houses, 1 school, 1 pub, 2 shops and about 3 buses a day –really small– but it was a fantastic place to grow up. Even as a kid sport was a massive thing for me.

When I was growing up, I played anything and everything – boxing, gymnastics, rugby, football – I was just like most boys.
By the time I was 15, I left school and went to work in a steelworks as a crane driver. I had a great time there! When I think about how tough kids have it today, I realise how much of a dawdle it was. My mother didn’t have to worry about any of the problems parents do today.

Then when I was 18, I was at holiday in Butlins. I was on a big wheel with a mate of mine, and I decided to try and scare him. So I started shaking it. I wasn’t being sensible.

All of a sudden, the safety bars came out of my hands and out I went. I fell about 40ft from the very top, and landed on my back with one arm behind me on a brick wall. It was a hell of an impact. My back was shattered, my arm was broken, and all my veins had collapsed. I thought I was going to die.

I was flown to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where I spent the next 6 months of my life. The hospital informed my mother I’d been in an accident by letter. She came all the way to see me and the first thing she asked the staff there was “will my son live”. She was told “we don’t know.

During those 6 months I felt absolutely dire most times. If someone would have offered me a tablet to end it all, I’d have taken it. I was either in bed or a wheelchair. When you’re in a state like that, you come to think about a number of things – mortality for one. But two main things dawned on me. One, I thought I was no longer a threat. And two, I thought no woman would ever find me attractive again. I’d always been able to hold my own, but now I was just some bloke in a wheelchair.

When you’re rehabilitated, they send you on your way just like that. After I was released, I just turned into a drunk. Drinking was all I did for a few years. I didn’t exercise at all. At Stoke Mandeville, we did things like archery and table tennis, but this was more as rehab, and they weren’t really for me. At the time, I thought these were the only sports you could do if you were disabled; I didn’t’ have a clue.

I only got back into sport after a mate of mine invited me to a local gym. I had to pluck up a lot of courage, but eventually I went. I went for a few weeks and started to get into weightlifting. A guy at the gym, Bryan Taylor, and he’d come up to me while I was lifting and say “you’re doing that exercise wrong”. He invited me to train with him and a bunch of other bodybuilders, and show me the proper techniques. My life changed after that. I stopped smoking and drinking my days away, and got fit.

Shortly after, I was asked to join a paraplegic sports club down in Cardiff, which is where I first got into discus. I started training, and eventually got to compete in the Stoke Mandeville national games in about 1973. I came 2nd or 3rd – I can’t remember which – but someone must have taken notice of me, because I was invited to start training with the G.B squad. I started training with them, but it took until 1978 for me to be selected to compete. I went to the Super Challenge in Canada, and ended up coming 49th out of a total of 50. I thought I was a nobody.

Despite myself, somebody must have seen something in me, because when the 1980 Paralympic games came I round I was selected to compete. I came 6th in discus, but ended up breaking the British record at the time. But a mate of mine ended up winning silver medal in Javelin – this just made me determined to get a medal!

I spend the next 4 years training with that medal in mind. I trained and trained and trained, and then in the 1984 Paralympics, I won my first medal – gold. Without a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn’t be here talking to you if I hadn’t won that gold medal.
Winning gold just spurred me on, and in 1988 in Seoul I ended up winning a silver in Discus, and a bronze in the Pentathlon. I competed for another 8 years, but in 1992 and 1996 I didn’t win any medals. I think I was probably past my peak a little by then, but sport was so important to me I couldn’t give it up.

My career hasn’t just been about competition though. In 2013 I climbed Kilimanjaro – that was intense. And in 1987, me and my mate Chris Hallam wheeled around Wales to raise money to build a sports centre for the disabled. We did 400 miles in 11 days. Then in 1997, we did a further push of 600 miles in 3 days – 18 miles a day, every day. In my opinion, Chris had to be one of the greatest there’s been. For me he was a true pioneer of disabled sport – he held every record from 200m right through to the marathons.

I guess that people like myself and Chris paved the way for today’s athletes. When we first started out, we couldn’t have been more dedicated. I always say there can’t have been an able bodied athlete around that wanted it more than me. I don’t think that today’s athletes are any better than my generation; the main difference is the equipment. When I started out, you had to throw or race from your standard day to day wheelchair. Compared to today’s chairs, the weight difference is phenomenal. I think if some of the top boys from back in the day were competing with today’s equipment, they’d have been unreal.

The public’s perception of disability sport has definitely changed since I was in competition. The funding for disabled athletes has changed too. Today they can get lottery funding and sponsorship, which is the way it should be. When I was competing, I had to work full time to afford to be an athlete. The most money I ever got from competing was £250 for coming 3rd place in the Great North Run.

Compared to when I started, the kudos and credibility that disabled sport has is incredible. But I don’t think disabled sportspeople will ever be in the same position as non-disabled athletes. Disabled people just don’t get the same amount of competition; they don’t have the same kind of “bread and butter” year round competitions to take part in. The media exposure isn’t the same either, some countries just aren’t that bothered. Take the USA for example; even for big competitions, there’s far less coverage UK.

I guess that everything i’ve done – the jobs I’ve had, the people I’ve met, even my fitness today– has been as a result of that gold medal. If I hadn’t have won that, my life would have gone down a completely different route. At 70 I still go to the gym 3 times a week, sometimes with my 22 year old son. The other week we did 1000 reps! He’s just as sports mad as me – he’s done a sports degree and he’s going to go back and do a masters. The Olympic gold medal was my dream really – it took me 11 years of training and competing to get it, but it was worth every second. The Olympic gold medal is the most important sporting moment of my life”

Author: Tom