With 22 Summer and 4 Winter Paralympic sports, and opportunities to compete from grass-roots, right up to international Olympic competition, para-sports are firm fixtures in every event calendar. Some sports are quite similar to those available for able-bodied athletes, others are modified to suit a whole range of disabilities. Every disabled athlete achieves and inspires in their own way, but here is a look at some of the wheelchair athletes that have made a big impact on Paralympic sport.
Great Britain Athletes
In the 2012 London Paralympics archives Team GB athletes achieved 3rd place on the medal table with 34 Gold, 43 Silver, and 43 Bronze. This was an outstanding performance, and with the continued personal bests, more medals, and world records that followed, Team GB disabled athletics is in a very good place today. Here are some of the best in the UK.
Born without the use of his legs, Weir showed talent from an early age, and despite the lack of wheelchair sports available at the time, went on to win the junior wheelchair event at the London Marathon seven times.
Persistence, spirit, and determination, has seen him develop an outstanding career as an elite athlete, and he’s often labelled one of the greatest British paralympians of all time. His success lies in his intensive training and determination to succeed.
Weir competes in road and track events, and his growing list of accolades includes 6 Paralympic Medals, London Marathon medals of all colours, and countless appearances and achievements at IPC Grand Prix events, European and International competitions, and London Marathon gold medals.
His influence and inspiration has extended through Team GB, the international athletics community, and the Wier Archer Academy which he co-founded to help increase participation in disabled sport.
A wheelchair user with spina bifida, this is one former athlete that needs no introduction. A household name after several decades as a wheelchair racer, with ongoing work on television, as a charity patron and athletic board member. She is also a life peer of the House Of Lords, and ambassador for sport, disabled sports, and women in sport.
Grey-Thompson certainly didn’t plan a quiet, relaxing retirement. After a career spanning several decades, numerous awards, and the fact she held over 30 world records and 15 paralympic medals, it’s easy to see why Tanni is not one to sit still for long.
On the world stage there are similar stories of triumph over adversity and achievement in wheelchair sports. Louise Sauvage, a wheelchair racer with a congenital spinal condition, is famous in her native Australia for a former racing career that spanned the 90’s and early 00’s. She achieved gold medals in the IAAF Word Athletics Championships, won medals in international track and marathon events, and medalled at her home Olympics in 2000. Now retired, Louise has inspired others through public speaking, coaching, and her role in elite development coaching for track and road wheelchair sport.
Proving that there are few limits to participation in wheelchair sport, fellow international athlete from South Africa, Ernst Van Dyk has had a career spanning both swimming, and more recently hand cycling. In this discipline he has topped the podium 9 times in the Boston Marathon, and also runs a company providing sports equipment for disabled athletes, all this despite being born without both his legs.
While some athletes are born with congenital disabilities, others become disabled through accidents, and that’s exactly what happened to US wheelchair rugby player and team captain Mark Zupan. He has been quad rugby national champion twice, and won bronze and gold medals at the Paralympic games. His inspirational biography is entitled ‘When Life Deals You A Crappy Hand You Can Fold – Or You Can Play’ – an ethos shared throughout the Paralympic community.
Whichever walk of life these athletes come from, or sport they compete in, there are common threads that link them all – a passion for the sport, an appreciation of the opportunities and experiences disabled sport has given them, and a determination to raise awareness and help the next generation of disabled athletes. That is inspiring to us all.
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Patrick Boland is the Founder of You Bike, an exercise equipment company that specialises in equipment designed for sufferers of movement restricting problems such as strokes, Parkinsons, arthritis and obesity.