Early sports and recreation

In the beginning...

Early sports and games

Photo:Billiards at the Royal Star and Garter Home, early 1940s

Billiards at the Royal Star and Garter Home, early 1940s

photo RSG

Games and sport had been introduced by Guttmann as part of the rehabilitation programme. He recognised their value in encouraging fitness, introducing competition and providing pleasure. Once spinal patients were up and into wheelchairs then they could take part in games like darts, billiards and skittles. Then there was an indefinable point at which some of the gym and physiotherapy  activities  - like using a punch ball or throwing a medicine ball - could move across and turn int a sort of competitive sport.  

Photo:Teams with medicine balls at Stoke Mandeville. What started as physiotherapy began to turn into a team sport.

Teams with medicine balls at Stoke Mandeville. What started as physiotherapy began to turn into a team sport.

photo Wheelpower

The very first sports event using wheelchairs was probably the 1923 sports day at the Royal Star and Garter home in Richmond, Surrey, where a group of disabled ex-servicemen competed in a Zig Zag obstacle race in their rather primitive wheelchair tricycles.

Photo:Photo of the first ever wheelchair sports day, 1923

Photo of the first ever wheelchair sports day, 1923

photo Royal Star and Garter

Developing Team Games

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Early sports and recreation' page

photo, NSIC

"One day Dr. Guttmann and 'Q' took themselves off to an empty ward, and using shortened walking sticks for mallets and a wooden disc for a ball experimented with a type of wheelchair polo. He decided that this should become a team game, its proving to be a stimulating if somewhat rough sport, particularly for local footballers or physiotherapy staff against whom our team pitted their skill. Surveying the carnage after a particularly boisterous match, Guttmann decided that polo should give way to netball and later to basket ball." Joan, administrator

Early chairs
Photo:"Look at the change in wheelchair design! They have got the larger wheels at the front; they would have been much harder work and with an awkward weight distribution."

"Look at the change in wheelchair design! They have got the larger wheels at the front; they would have been much harder work and with an awkward weight distribution."

photo NSIC

The memories of a nurse working at Stoke in the late 1940s suggest that wheelchair design hadn't advanced much in the intervening 25 years."I remember the very earliest self-propelled carts that the patients were using at Stoke Mandeville, pre-cursors to wheelchairs that you could get yourself about in. They were just going out of use when I started at Stoke in 1948. We called them ‘Push-Pulls’; they were a low four-wheeled cart that a patient could sit themselves in and they had two levers each side which they would move backwards and forwards to propel themselves along. Some of them even used to get down the Bell at Stoke Mandeville for a beer in these vehicles. In the summer they could get there and sit outside in the sun with a pint." Joan

The first wheelchairs at Stoke were known as "travaux" chairs. "They were like brown leather armchairs on wheels and apparently very comfortable, even if not very manoueverable." All sports, even netball and basketball, were done in them. Dingwall and Everest and Jennings chairs were first introduced in 1948 and 1949 respectively.

Competition

A decade later sport had become completely integrated into the hospital routine, both for its therapeutic and rehabilitative value and as a way of encouraging competition among patients.

"In the afternoon you would also do sports. Previously I had played a bit of badminton, but I had never really been interested in sport. Now I started with table tennis and archery. Archery was good for your posture in a wheelchair; it made you sit up straight; while table tennis was good for your reactions. Every June the national games would take place at the hospital; competitors would come from other spinal units, the Star and Garter home and disabled sports clubs from around the country. They would empty out one or two of the wards for the other competitors to stay in and also put them up in some of the huts at the back of the hospital." Margaret, patient

Photo:The first Archery Tournament at Stoke Mandeville Hospital on 27th July 1948 was won by the Royal Star and Garter Home team.

The first Archery Tournament at Stoke Mandeville Hospital on 27th July 1948 was won by the Royal Star and Garter Home team.

photo Wheelpower

Photo:The return match between the Stoke Mandeville and the Royal Star and Garter teams at Richmond in September 1948

The return match between the Stoke Mandeville and the Royal Star and Garter teams at Richmond in September 1948

photo Royal Star and Garter

This page was added on 18/03/2011.

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