The games have become an annual event, expanding to more athletes each year. The javelin throw was quickly added to the roster. The name changed to the Stoke Mandeville Games, after the hospital where Guttman worked, and in 1952 the Netherlands sent a team, making the competition international.
In 1960, the Stoke Mandeville Games officially became the Paralympic Games. That year, more than 400 disabled athletes from 23 countries gathered at the Olympic Stadium in Rome after the close of the Summer Olympics. They have competed in archery, basketball, swimming, fencing, javelin, shot put, club throw, swimming, table tennis, pentathlon and even billiards.
Since then, the Paralympic Games have taken place immediately after the Olympics in the same host city. The name “Paralympics” reflects the parallel nature of the games: it comes from the Greek preposition “para”, which means “beside”. The Olympic and Paralympic Games exist in tandem.
The growth of the Paralympic Games has been rapid. At the 1976 Games in Toronto, more than 1,500 athletes from 40 countries competed in 13 different sports. That year also saw the first Paralympic Winter Games, which were held in Sweden. At the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, the Paralympic Games used the same facilities as the Olympics. In 1996, the Atlanta Games were billed as “the second largest sporting event in the world” and the games were televised.
The increased exposure to the event led to more inclusiveness. Guttman’s games were designed for veterans with spinal injuries. Eventually, the games opened up to civilians, but they were still limited to participants with spinal injuries. In 1976, athletes with disabilities beyond spinal cord injury, such as amputees and the visually impaired, were invited to compete.
This raised the question of how to make competitions fair so that the person with the least disability does not always win. The organizers of the Paralympic Games have started to classify competitors according to the extent and type of their disability. The classifications fall into three broad categories – physical, visual and intellectual – and determine whether athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how competitors are grouped for events.
For a long time, games have been a gift. She now holds the second most medals among Paralympic athletes and the same number of medals as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. “I don’t know where life is going to take me,” she says, “but the Paralympic movement has given me all this wild and incredible journey. “