- 15 Jul 08, 07:23 PM
The name of Joan Scruton may not mean a lot, even to those who follow disability sports regularly, but a memorial service this week will celebrate the life of a woman who dedicated her life to disabled sport and was one of the key figures in its early development.
Born in 1918 in Yorkshire, she was posted in 1944 as an administrator to Stoke Mandeville, Bucks, which at that time was an emergency medical centre for soldiers injured in the Second World War.
Here she worked in the spinal injuries unit where she became assistant to neurologist Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the man known as Poppa, and the creator of the Paralympic movement.
Guttmann wanted his patients to resume a normal life as quickly as possible and sport played a vital role in their rehabilitation.
He knew that sport could make a positive difference to their lives and he found innovative ways to encourage his patients to exercise.
A quartermaster sergeant was seconded from the Army to supervise the patients' sport. This included throwing a medicine ball to patients in bed, who then threw it back to increase the strength in their arms.
Organised sport soon followed with the patients playing wheelchair polo (something similar to ice hockey) but after a number of minor injuries occurred, it was replaced by basketball.
Joan later recalled: "They had to do a sport. It was part of the treatment. It was not a question of would you like to do archery; no, it was part of the treatment, like taking their medicine or doing physiotherapy. And Sir Ludwig would make sure they did it."
On 28 July 1948, Guttmann organised an archery competition at Stoke Mandeville, involving 16 competitors, which was the forerunner of the modern-day Paralympics.
Four years later a Dutch team was added to make it an international event and later that year the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation was created and decided the games should be held in the country hosting the Olympics.
In 1960 about 400 athletes made the journey to Rome to compete in the first Paralympics and since then the movement has grown with more than 4,000 athletes expected to take part in this year's Games in Beijing.
As Guttmann's work developed, Joan worked as secretary-general of the two main organisations that eventually developed into the International Paralympic Committee, which runs the sport today.
One of the many who had close dealings with Joan was the current President of the IPC Sir Philip Craven.
"My memories of Joan date back to 1967 and my first National Games at Stoke Mandeville," he said.
"There I saw the man that the locals from the Stoke Paraplegic Athletic Club called Poppa, accompanied on nearly all occasions by a middle-aged lady (Joan). Of course, I was only 17 at the time and anyone over 30 looked middle-aged.
"I learnt of the history and how the two of them put into action their dream of sport and Stoke Mandeville coming together.
"Joan made it happen and interpreted Sir Ludwig's many visions and without them the Stoke Mandeville movement that has become the Paralympic movement may never have got off the ground.
"We owe a great debt to both Sir Ludwig and Joan Scruton."
After her death on 1 November last year, tributes poured in from all over the world to the woman who was awarded MBE for her services to sport and her life will be celebrated at a memorial service at Stoke Mandeville on Wednesday.
Sadly, as Paralympic sport gets ready to come home to Britain in 2012, one of the visionaries will not be around to see it but the thousands of participants in disability sport, at all levels, should thank both her and Sir Ludwig Guttmann for what they have done.
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