British Paralympians urged to build forgotten history of disability sport

British Paralympians have been urged to help record the forgotten history of disability sport, with the message that “knowing where we come from helps us figure out where we’re going in the future”.

ParalympicsGB announced on Tuesday the creation of a new Athlete Community, which any British Paralympic athlete from the winter and summer Games can join. As well as offering a network for former and current athletes, the governing body hopes to use the group to start piecing together a history that is shorter than that of its Olympic sibling but far less commonly documented.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the winner of 11 gold medals as a wheelchair racer between 1992 and 2004, is one of the founding members of the group and said its development reflected the growing strength of British parasport. She also argued, however, that it was a necessary tool to help build a thorough story of British parasport and its heroes.

“I think this is a really important part of the evolution of the movement in the country, to know your history, because it’s been hard to do it before,” Grey-Thompson said.

“I just think knowing where we come from helps us figure out where we’re going in the future. If you look at Olympic sport that history is known and where you come from is known and that’s not the same in Paralympic sport.”

The public history of the pioneering Paralympic Games, with the four-year cycle of summer Paralympic Games beginning in Rome in 1960, is often limited simply to a list of medal winners, with none of the surrounding media coverage associated with the Olympic Games.

“There are some names that are known which is brilliant,” Grey-Thompson said. “But there’s hundreds of athletes from our history that the public don’t know about, that actually even people sometimes in the sports don’t know.”

Grey-Thompson cited the Welsh athlete Chris Hallam as one pioneer who deserved greater recognition. Hallam, who was both a champion swimmer and wheelchair racer, won medals at three Paralympic Games but died in 2013 before his 50th birthday. “I wouldn’t have had my career as an athlete without Chris,” Grey-Thompson said.

“He was from Cwmbran and he won the London Marathon twice. He would have robust conversations with people, he would be quite rude to those who patronised him in fact. But he knocked down loads of barriers for me to then come through.”

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Claire Cunningham, the head of Athlete Services at Paralympics GB and a former Paralympic swimmer, said of the new community: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a summer/winter athlete, if you entered the Games in 1960 in Rome, Innsbruck in ’84, or Rio in 2016, we really want to bring everyone together. We want you to reconnect with us so we can carry on trying to inspire a nation through parasport.”

Find out more about the Paralympic Athletes Community at www.paralympics.org.uk

The Guardian

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