The first Paralympic Games took place in
Rome in 1960, with 400 athletes from 23 countries battling it out for gold in
their respective sports. Since then, they have taken place every four years and
entertained millions of people around the world. As we get ready for the latest
edition of the Paralympics, let's look at some of the inspiring stories that
have defined this great event.
The Paralympics emerged from the Stoke
Mandeville Games, which was organised during the London 1948 Olympics for
injured servicemen and women. There were just 16 athletes at the first event,
all of whom competed in archery. There has always been a strong relationship
between ex-servicemen and the Paralympics. The creation of the International
Sport Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD) opened up new opportunities for
civilians in 1964. Athletes from all areas of life are now represented,
including amputees, paraplegics, the vision impaired, and people with cerebral
Derek Derenalagi is one inspiring
Paralympic athlete with an incredibly moving story. As a Lance Corporal in the
British Army, Derek was pronounced dead when his vehicle was hit by an
improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. As a body bag was readied for
Derek, medics detected a faint pulse and managed to bring him back to life.
After a nine-day coma, he took part in the Paralympic training camp where he
took up shot put and discus. Just a few years later, he was winning gold medals
and representing Great Britain in the Paralympic Games.
Italian Alex Zanardi is another inspiring
athlete with an amazing story of strength and focus. Alex was a top-ranked
Formula One driver before losing his legs in a horrific crash in 2001. Instead
of lamenting past glories, Alex decided to switch to an entirely different
event. While his performance at the H4 individual paracycling event — where
arms are used for cycling - did not reach the speeds of his old racing car, it
was enough to win Paralympic gold.
Daphne Hilton is one of Australia's most
accomplished athletes of any kind. After becoming paralysed from a horse-riding
accident at 17, Daphne went on to win 14 Paralympic medals in five sports
across three games. The 1960 games were her most successful, with Daphne
winning six of Australia's ten medals. Her amazing tally single-handedly raised
the profile of female sport in Australia, including two gold medals in
swimming, three silvers in archery and athletics, and a bronze in shot put.
Thirteen-year-old swimmer Maddison Elliott
is another Australian with a rich Paralympic legacy. Maddison became the
youngest-ever Paralympic silver medalist in the S8 50m freestyle during London
2012, followed by gold in the S8 4x100 relay, and bronze in the S8 400m
freestyle. All in all, there are simply too many inspiring stories to make a
dent on the Paralympic legacy. Every single athlete that competes at the
Paralympic Games is a powerful reminder of the real meaning of success.