Olympics. One word that inspires the world, attempts to bring about friendly competition, something that makes the world seem that bit smaller, creates something in which everyone can get behind, old… young; sporting… or not boys girls it doesn’t matter everyone joins in and gets into the spirit of things and enjoys the spectacle of it all. The wonder of the opening and closing ceremonies, The competition the athletes showing their amazing sporting ability, simply I think one f the greatest events that the world has to share and be a part of. Ok so I’m a bit biased I’m British and the games were in my home country so yes I might have a more positive outlook on things. However if you asked me to sum up the Olympics in one word I think the only word that fits is inspiration. Although we’ll see if it’s inspirational quality has rubbed off on me, a book loving non sporty type, and actually got me to take up a sport… we’ll see as my dad says ‘stranger things have happened’.
So what has the Stoke Mandeville games, the title of this post, have anything to do with the Olympics I hear you ask. Well, in researching for my blog post this month I was toying with a few ideas, the introduction of the modern Olympics, the impact of women in the Olympics, however I was watching a BBC drama ‘The Best of Men’ (watch it if you can it’s really good), the drama depicts the birth of the Paralympics in 1944, as wounded and paralysed soldiers under their German doctor regain their strength through sport, leading to the creation of a national games and then the Paralympics in 1948. This programme changed my blog entirely, and so here it goes…
The Second World War as we all know was bloody conflict with high wounded and casualties all as a result of war efforts both civil and military. However there was one question left afterwards, after the battle was won and the soldiers and the civilians return home, the same question that I’m sure occurs after every form of conflict, what do we do now? How do we go on from here? And this question becomes even more complicated when you are dealing with men and women who have done their bit for their country and now as a result of their bravery are left in a paralysed condition, from which they and occasionally professionals too see no hope of a future, in a world where paralysed… meant cripple… meant that they could not be functioning members of regular society. Something, that can perhaps seem slightly alien to us as we sit in a world where disability is more easily recognised and taken into account, well at least to an extent.
Well our story starts in Germany where at the age of 18 Ludwig Guttmann volunteered at his local hospital or coal miners as an orderly. Here he witnessed an incident which left a lasting mark upon him, the death of a coal miner who was admitted with a broken back and was paralysed from the waist down. However Guttmann was astonished to see this man left in plaster and moved away from other patients where he developed infections, and five weeks later the miner passed away. In 1918 Ludwig Guttmann started his medical studies at the university of Breslau passing in 1923 and taking a job in neurology and neurosurgery. With the rise of Hitler in 1933 and Guttmann’s growing reputation he was able to take up a position in Oxford, England in 1939 where he undertook various research projects. As the war progressed and the growing number of casualties and the government decided to open up a spinal injuries ward to deal with the victims, and in September 1943 Dr Guttmann was asked to head the ward, at Stoke Mandeville.
It was whilst at Stoke Mandeville Dr Guttmann, created the movement which later became the Paralympic games. After caring for his patients and changing the way in which they were looked after which lessened the amount of sores and infections they received, before beginning to change their mental outlook to through the introduction of sports, and allowing them to learn new skills such as wood work and typing that would enable them to reintegrate into society, by helping them to become employable. In July 1948 Dr Guttmann held the first contest which would later spark of the idea for the Paralympics, an archery contest between the star and garter hospital of Richmond and the patients at Stoke Mandeville, with the former winning. A year later, 1949, more hospitals and patients took part in what become known as the Stoke Mandeville Games.
“It was here Guttmann uttered the words for which he has forever been associated with: ‘I foresaw the time when this sports event would be truly international and the Stoke Mandeville Games would achieve world fame as the disabled person’s equivalent of the Olympic Games’ (The Cord, 1949).”
So with that the beginning of what became the Paralympics was over and now many athletes with varied disabilities come to compete in the Paralympic games, an integral part of the modern Olympics, and so in reference to my earlier definition as the Olympics being an inspiration to the rest of us and I definitely think that the Paralympics fits that description. In addition, the games are also a testament idea of anything is possible with, courage, a bit of hard work and a one very good doctor.