Paralympic Games

Dr Ludwig Guttmann – illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission

The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games 2020 are over, but new competitions and excitements are still ahead of us, the Paralympic Games will begin next week in Tokyo.

To my shame, I must confess, for many years I did not know that there were Paralympic Games! It was about fifteen years ago when I became aware of it. The grandparents of one of the Scottish Paralympians were very active members of the church I ministered to in Helensburgh. I got to know about Paralympics through them. Their grandson, Gordon Reid, is a wheelchair tennis player, British Number One, multiple Grand Slam champion in singles and doubles and Paralympic Gold medallist (Rio 2016), a lovely, genuine lad.

But Paralympics have been around for quite a while! In 1948, as London was getting ready to host the first Summer Olympics after the war, Dr Ludwig Guttmann, who was working at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, helping people with spinal injuries, had an idea. Many of his patients were seriously injured ex-servicemen. Many doctors thought there was nothing more that could be done for them. Dr Guttmann did not share their thinking!

He saw sports and games as an excellent encouragement to help people regain their self-confidence after suffering terrible injuries – so why should they not have their own sports competitions as part of the treatment? They tried wheelchair polo, basketball, archery … and it worked! Competition was fun, exciting, smiles reappeared on many faces, and patients were looking forward with hope and purpose to life ahead! Sports gave them a new zest for life!

So, Dr Guttmann arranged for Stoke Mandeville to host its own Olympics with other hospitals at the same time as the London Games – with sports designed for wheelchair users. Four years later (1952) they did it again, with more than 130 competitors, a Dutch team being among them. The idea grew with every Olympic Games. By 1960 it was called the Paralympics (Parallel Olympics), and it was held in Rome with 400 athletes from 23 countries. By 1976 there was a Winter Paralympic competition too! The number of events just grew involving more and more people with various disabilities. On 24th August 3492 athletes representing 133 National Paralympic Committees will begin competing in Tokyo!

The Paralympics are a little like the great feast, Jesus talked about in his parable describing the Kingdom of God (Luke 14:15-24). God invites all with their strengths and weaknesses, their abilities of different levels to come into his Kingdom through Jesus Christ, where they all can shine and be victorious over sin, evil, temptations and darkness, because it is not their merits, or the level of abilities that make them qualify for the feast, it is their personal faith in Jesus Christ, who died to redeem them from their sins! He is inviting you into His Kingdom to share in His feast! You can come, qualify, through Christ. Have you accepted Him as your Saviour?

[from GV – based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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