So here is the man of the day. Sir Ludwig Guttman. Although his name may be unfamiliar, he’s the man we all have to thank for the Paralympic Games, which concluded in London this evening.
Jewish and born in Germany, he escaped the country in 1939 – just in time. Practising as a neurosurgeon at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, he organised the very first ‘Olympic’ games for a few World War Two veterans who had been left disabled by their combat injuries. It was 1948. The story is that he pushed his patients beyond their limits. It was games, but it was powerful physical and psychological therapy for his wounded soldiers and pilots.
He called it the ‘Parallel Olympics’ because it was held at the same time as the London Olympics. By 1960 there were disabled people from the Netherlands taking part, and by the 1988 Seoul Olympics the ‘Paralympics’ was officially accepted as part of the Olympic movement.
The London Paralympics has been the most successful games so far. More than 2.5 million people visited and the 10-day event has shone a light – a new light – on the sports abilities of disabled people. In fact it has led many to see not the disability but the ability of the individuals taking part.
People at the games – and millions watching on television – have seen individuals who have had to work even harder for their sport than their able-bodied counterparts. They have pushed themselves beyond any physically-imposed psychological limitations; and the result is that they’ve done things no-one thought possible.
One rather pushy, yet compassionate doctor, and a dream to get injured men and women up and moving, and being involved in sport again. And hopeful that they did have a life beyond their disabilities. It was a good idea.