The Paralympic wheelchair games are the second largest sporting event in the world next to the Olympics. The first Paralympics can be traced back to the period following World War II, when an English doctor named Sir Ludwig Guttman advocated the use of sports as therapy for those who were wounded and injured in the war.
Coinciding with the London Olympics of 1948, Guttman organized a sports competition for World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries. Over the next several years, other spinal injury units throughout England borrowed Guttman’s idea and organized sporting competitions.
Guttman dreamed of organizing a worldwide athletic competition for wheelchair athletes. In 1960, Guttman brought 400 wheelchair athletes from 23 countries to compete in wheelchair games in Rome to coincide with the Rome Olympics. The Parallel Olympics, or Paralympics, were born.
Shortly following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Paralympics were hosted in Tokyo. Wheelchair racing was introduced at the Tokyo Games, although the wheelchairs used at the time were nowhere near as lightweight and advanced as the ones seen at the Paralympics today.
Originally, only wheelchair athletes were invited to compete at the Paralympics. In 1976, the year of the Toronto Olympics, the Paralympics began to include athletes from other disability groups.
Today, the Paralympics include athletes in the following six categories: athletes with visual impairments; athletes with physical disabilities; amputees; people with cerebral palsy; people with spinal cord injury, and people with disabilities that don’t fit into the preceding categories.
The Paralympics movement has grown significantly since its humble beginnings. While the first Paralympics included only 400 wheelchair athletes, the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing saw the participation of 3,951 athletes with a variety of disabilities hailing from 146 countries.
Although Sir Ludwig Guttman died in 1980, his vision of competitive sports for disabled athletes continues today. Thanks to the Paralympics, the athletic talents of people with disabilities are being recognized around the world.
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