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 palsy.
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.