Film ID:
YFA 5830

CALENDAR SPECIAL: THE WHEELCHAIR OLYMPIANS

1983

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Description

This is a Calendar Special on the British paraplegic athletic squad in training for the National Championships taking place later that year at Stoke Mandeville.  The programme includes footage of the athletes in training, mainly wheelchair racing, at Cleckheaton athletics track in West Yorkshire.  There are interviews with competitors and others including Kevin McNicholas, Paul Cartwright, Moira Gallagher (National Track Coach), Mark Agar (British Record Holder 800/1500 meters) and Dorothy Ripley (British Record Holder, shot put and javelin). 

Title – The Wheelchair Olympians

The film begins with Kevin McNicholas explaining that as a result of a motorbike accident aged 23 he would never walk again.  He states that he used to play rugby (for Wakefield Trinity Colts) and that doing training for competition gave him an aim.  McNicholas wants to be the best, and he and his fellow wheelchair competitors race around the track in a relay at Cleckheaton.  They are part of the British paraplegic athletic squad in training for National Championships later that year at Stoke Mandeville.  McNicholas says that the athletes should be as recognised as Seb Coe or Steve Ovett.   Another wheelchair user states that before his accident he used to enjoy playing team games but never realised his potential, whereas now he is near his full potential.  

Roger Ellis (National Field Events Coach) talks about the nature of their training.  Another wheelchair user, 18 year old Paul Cartwright from Batley, has been unable to walk from birth.  He explains how he used to keep away from others with disabilities because he didn’t want to be classed as disabled.  He used to participate alongside his fellow school mates in an ordinary school.  He explains that on one occasion in a race he got beat, vowed to do better, and in the next year won the race.  He is a Class 4 paraplegic, with no power in his legs.  He is the fastest sprinter in Britain in his class, doing a time of 18.8 seconds for the 100 meters, with a world record of 17.2. 

There is more film of the squad training at Cleckheaton.  The squad is looking to be selected for the 1984 Paralympics in Illinois, and the five classes of disability classification is explained.  There is an interview with Moira Gallagher, the newly appointed national track coach for the team.  She is accompanied by Peter Carruthers (British Pentathlon Champion.)  Moira had been a teacher at Grafton Special School in Leeds and was now Britain’s first national track coach.  She says that the wheelchairs that the competitors are using are not good enough, and she is introducing a number of changes to the sport.  She is joined by Nick Whitehead, former sprinter, and now Great Britain Athletics Team Manager.  

The competitors do 10 repetition sprints.  Then Mark Agar, the British Record Holder 800/1500 meters, is interviewed.   Asked about what motivates him, he answers that he enjoys it and has kept it up since school.  Asked about pain, he says that sometimes the stomach and shoulders can hurt.  He then talks about his new wheelchair, comparing it to older ones.  Again the competitors are filmed racing around the track, this time all together.  

[advert break]

Another wheelchair competitor says that he gets mad about the different way that they get treated compared to other athletes.  He says that he is sickened by something relating to the marathon – presumably referring to controversy over this at the forthcoming games in Illinois (which never took place).  Roger Ellis talks about how much more difficult it is getting sponsorship for disabled athletes.  The first two of ten new bespoke wheelchairs are seen, at a cost of £350 each.  The money is provided by Clark’s Brewery in Wakefield and Modern Maintenance Products of Harrogate.  The seats are made by Alpha Plastics of Hull.  

Back at the track a discus and a javelin thrower practice.  Joslyn Hoyte-Smith runs around track in the background. Good humour is in evidence among the competitors.

They make their way into the gym at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield for weight training.  The hospital is renowned for its spinal injuries unit.  Kevin McNicholas, who regained his consciousness in the unit after his accident, states that competing makes it, “A damn sight easier.”  As he has his arm exercised, and goes on to talk about his experience of people standing away from him and talking about him as if he isn’t there.

Dorothy Ripley, the British record holder for shot put and javelin, is interviewed.  She is asked about what motivates her, answering that she enjoys it.  She has just made a world record throw, but she says that she is aiming for a Class 4 distance as she may be reclassified.  Then Les Johns, 22 from Hemsworth, near Pontefract, is interviewed. He is being helped by a student from Carnegie, who is also a javelin thrower.

Paul Cartwright states that disabled athletics is not given the status it deserves and hardly any coverage on television.  He speculates that perhaps people don’t like watching because they may find it upsetting.  He wants to help the sport gain more recognition.  Nick Whitehead is interviewed again, and Paul Cartwright talks about the beneficial effects of racing as he watches abled bodied runners pass by before heading off down the street, stating that he wants to win a gold medal.  It comes to an end without any credits.

[Credits from ITN Source]
Director - Graham Wetherell 
Producer - Graham Ironside 
Presenter - Roger Greenwood
Yorkshire Television