A new sporting chance

A total of 72 spinal cord injured patients showed everything that’s best about the human spirit at WheelPower’s annual Inter Spinal Unit Games event.

The games provide an opportunity for recently injured adults to discover the life transforming benefits that come from taking part in sport.

Participants travelled to the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, Stoke Mandeville Stadium, alongside teammates and physios from spinal units across the UK. Eleven units took part in the event and that included teams from the National Spinal Injuries Centre in Buckinghamshire, the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow and Musgrave Park, in Belfast.

This year’s event also welcomed its first European entrants as the Institut Guttmann from Barcelona brought a team of four ‘Back to the Origins’ for an unforgettable experience.

Carles Yepes, physical education specialist from the Institut, said: ‘It was an honour to visit the place where the Paralympic movement started and take part in the games.

‘Sir Ludwig Guttmann came to Barcelona in 1965 to open the first spinal cord injury hospital in Spain and we are proud to be able to carry his name today. We had a wonderful week at Stoke Mandeville and thank WheelPower for taking care of us this week.’

Over the course of three days people were able to try 20 different sports, all while being supported by qualified coaches and volunteers.

Sports included athletics, tennis, sitting volleyball, bowls, rowing, golf, wheelchair rugby, and handcycling.

For many this event was the first time away from the hospital environment, or from the comforts of home, so everything was done to make the experience as stress free and enjoyable as possible.

Josh, 35, pictured playing wheelchair basketball, of Kettering, was injured at work and now has Cauda Equina syndrome. He spent three months at Stoke Mandeville to continue rehabilitation.

He said: ‘To be around like-minded people in the same situation is so important and you are able to talk about topics you can’t with everyone else.

‘For me, playing sport and going to the gym is a really good release, and its also about the camaraderie with your team that’s also so important.

‘I really liked the basketball and rugby and did powerlifting and kayaking for the first time.’

Janine, 59, of Wokingham also represented the winning team. She said: ‘I did my rehab at Stoke Mandeville after a spontaneous spinal bleed.

‘Following surgery to release the pressure I arrived at the unit in May 2023 and only recently returned home. I’ve always enjoyed playing sport socially but being active is now essential for me after injury. Coming to the Games was amazing and what WheelPower offers makes such a big difference to people like myself.’

James, 20, of Epsom, Surrey, added: ‘I had my injury last November. I was a professional trampolinist and had an accident that fractured my C5/6 vertebrate.

‘I spent five months at Stanmore, London, and underwent loads of physio. When the games was mentioned I was interested in representing the team and I thought ‘why not?’.

This year WheelPower and Stoke Mandeville celebrated 75 years of the Paralympic movement since their founder, Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann, first hosted an archery tournament between two groups on the lawns of the hospital.

The visionary work continues through WheelPower and the charity helps provide movement, activity and sporting opportunity for patients during rehabilitation.

The Inter Spinal Games will return in 2024. Find out more at https://www.wheelpower.org.uk/activities/inter-spinal-unit-games/