Disability Gymnastics - a sport for everyone

Games are for everyone. How Paralympic Sport began

In the 20th century, humanity has experienced two tragedies that have affected every corner of the Earth. World wars have claimed the lives of more than 100 million people, and the number of people left with disabilities, according to various estimates, has reached 30 million. This is more than the number of residents of the most densely populated region of Russia - the Volga Federal District, which, among others, includes cities such as Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Ufa, Perm and Samara. And almost three times the population of Moscow. All these people had to somehow return to normal life in a world that was absolutely not adapted to this.

Even today, people with disabilities are regularly faced with trivial everyday problems. How things were in those days is hard for a modern person to imagine. To get even a little closer to understanding the situation, it is worth knowing that, for example, the mass production of wheelchairs was launched only in 1933. And this was the beginning of a long journey: wheelchairs were to be transformed from luxury goods into a generally available means. In addition, it was previously impossible to use them on your own, for this you always needed a maintainer.

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Yet it was an important step for society. The world turned its face to people with disabilities and began to gradually perceive them as full-fledged members of society. Already in the 50s, the spread of ramps and the production of special vehicles will begin in Europe. Over time, sports were adapted for such people.

Who is Ludwig Guttman?

This is largely due to the name of Ludwig Guttman. He worked as a neurosurgeon in a hospital in Germany, but in 1933 he was forced to cease activities due to the government's anti-Jewish policy. Several years later, he fled the country, and, most likely, it was this decision that saved his life. After emigrating to the UK, Ludwig returned to medical practice and continued to improve his knowledge. One of the features of his methodology was that the doctor included sports in the rehabilitation program.

Guttman specialized in patients with spinal injuries. At that time, the Second World War was already in full swing, so he mainly treated the wounded soldiers. His hypothesis about the benefits of sports was confirmed in practice, and at the end of the international conflict Ludwig Guttman was commissioned to create a center for the treatment of people with musculoskeletal disorders.

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Sports for all: the creation of the Stoke Mandeville Games

As time went on, people in all countries gradually got used to a peaceful life. The year 1948 arrived and the first post-war Olympic Games began in London. On the same day, another very important event took place. It is difficult to say which part of the world's population knew about it, but for people with disabilities it was practically the beginning of a new era. On that day, Ludwig Guttmann launched the first Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games. In the ranks of the participants were only British war veterans, and the program included only a few sports disciplines. But the main thing is that the athletes declared themselves, reminded the whole world of their existence and showed people with similar injuries that an active life continues.

The games became annual, the number of people involved increased and was not limited only to veterans. Anyone could take part. Before the start of the fourth games, a team of athletes from the Netherlands informed Guttman of their desire to join the event. So the competition received international status. At that time, the number of participants reached 130.

Games are for everyone. How Paralympic Sport began

Queen Elizabeth II and Ludwig Guttmann at the 1969 Stoke Mandeville Games

Photo: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Games are for everyone. How Paralympic Sport began

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The first ever Paralympic Games

Four years later Guttman's efforts were noted by the International Olympic Committee, having awarded the federation created by him for the implementation of the Olympic ideals of humanism. Two years later, Ludwig found an associate: his Italian colleague Antonio Maglio became him. Together they began preparations for the next stage - the ninth international Stoke Mandeville Games in Rome. The partners' idea was brought to life in September 1960, right after the end of the Summer Olympic Games, which were also held in the Italian capital. Then, 400 athletes took part in the Guttman competition, competing in eight sports. The organizers raffled off 57 sets of awards.

16 years later, the first Winter Olympic Games for the disabled will be held in Sweden, and the term Paralympics will be officially approved in the eighties. At the same time it was decided that the countdown would begin with those very games in Rome. The International Paralympic Committee will be organized in 1988. Its founders will be several sports federations for the disabled, as well as national sports organizations for people with disabilities. Ludwig Guttmann did not live to see his dream of creating the Paralympic Games come true - only eight years old, he passed away in March 1980.

Despite this, dGuttman's body continues to live, and the list of sports at the Paralympics continues to grow. The Stoke-Mandeville Games, founded by him, are still held, albeit under a different name.

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