A look back at first ever Paralympic Wheelchair Marathon in Aylesbury 40 years ago

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Amazingly, no roads were shut for the big race

When the London Marathon returns this weekend, the wheelchair event will be very much a part of it.

But did you know the first Paralympic Wheelchair Marathon took place right here in Buckinghamshire nearly 40 years ago and that the course went through Aylesbury, without the road closures you might expect today.

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The story of how Stoke Mandeville came to host the 1984 Games is a fascinating one, and it is a story we will be telling over the coming weeks, but this week our focus is on the Wheelchair Marathon.

Paul Cartwright (c) IWASPaul Cartwright (c) IWAS
Paul Cartwright (c) IWAS

British Paralympian, Paul Cartwright, was a fierce competitor. His parents instilled a great sense of belief in him. “I used to play football with my mates. […] I really used to get riled when people would say things like, ‘You can’t do that; you shouldn’t do that’.” He said

"It just made me want to go out and prove them wrong.”

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Paul only started wheelchair racing in 1978 and took his competitive spirit into the first Paralympic marathon in ’84 setting a British record. Paul’s specially designed wheelchair can be seen in the Heritage Centre at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium today and it’s fascinating to see how wheelchair technology has

1984 marathon route ©NPHT1984 marathon route ©NPHT
1984 marathon route ©NPHT

developed since those early days.

Nineteen-year-old, Josie Cichockyi, had less positive memories of competing in the ’84 marathon. Initially awarded a bronze medal for finishing third, it was discovered after the medal ceremony that an error had been made and Josie had to return the medal.

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But she had a fantastic career winning many medals, including coming first in the London Marathon in 1989.

The marathon is now a key event in the Paralympic programme, and many rightly remember David Weir’s T54 gold medal in London 2012, but some of the best stories in sport don’t belong to the winners.

US Paralympian, Tatyana McFadden, was born with spina bifida and without having access to a wheelchair learned to walk on her hands — the arm strength she built up would make her one of the most successful wheelchair athletes ever.

McFadden probably learned more about herself in 2012 than she did in any of her victories. She’d already claimed triple gold on the track, but while Weir was coasting to victory things weren’t going her way at all.

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When the leaders raced into the City of London, McFadden wasn’t in sight. She had suffered a dreaded puncture, and refusing to quit, came too quickly around a bend near the Bank of England.

Losing control, she crashed into the barriers. The crowd was shocked into silence. McFadden, staring down at the wet tarmac, looked beaten. Then from the crowd came a few cheers, which built into a crescendo of huge applause.

McFadden lifted her head and nodded, she gripped her wheels and moved away. She would finish the race, not in the position she would have wanted, but finish she did.

These stories exist because of the people of Buckinghamshire who played a key role in supporting the first wheelchair marathon.

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The National Paralympic Heritage Trust recognise the historic community effort of local people in bringing the world the Paralympic Games. If you have a memory please share it here or by calling 01296 489929, for the “Stories from Buckinghamshire” project.