It all started in 1948 and came of age in London this year with the “coming home” of the Games. What Sir Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann visualised has exceeded his wildest dreams. Ability, integration, pride and joy all have been on display to the world. The legacy will hopefully be a continuing tribute to all that London 2012 has achieved.
Having decided to recognise and celebrate the life, work and legacy of a little known but remarkable man, The Poppa Guttmann Trust, like the games, surpassed our hopes and the statue of Poppa Guttmann stands proudly at Stoke Mandeville and the bronze bust from the same mould will go to every future Paralympic Games with London being its first outing.
A special service for the opening of The London Paralympics was held in St Paul’s Cathedral, not something the Olympic Games had, and the congregation of 2000 were treated to a wonderful celebration of ability, determination, inspiration and opportunity. The Bishop of London led the service, Dame Tanni Grey Thompson gave an invigorating address and the British under 22 Basketball team provided an astonishing demonstration of their skills under the magnificent dome of Wren’s Cathedral. In pride of place was the bust of Poppa Guttmann; a truly great honour and recognition for a German Jewish refugee who changed attitudes to the perception of disabled people.
The Poppa Guttmann Team (Trustees: Philip Lewis, Mike Mackenzie, Laura Broadhurst, Sandy Johnston and Jacko the sculptor) had the privilege of carrying the Paralympic Torch on the last stint to The Paralympic Stadium. We were concerned that, with the opening ceremony already started, most people would be in front of their televisions and there would be few people on the streets. How wrong could
we have been? We were mobbed! As the relay was so far behind schedule we were bussed to a start point further along the route. This was a great disappointment for those who had gathered to see the torch in Barking Park but many had moved to our new start. The streets were lined with crowds of enthusiastic families with many children in their pyjamas. Jacko, our sculptor, has a slight look of David Beckham and as our bright lighted bus progressed there were shouts of “Look, look its Beckham!” and we were pursued as the bus slowly moved forward. We stopped a number of times and each time we were begged to open the doors so that children could be photographed with us and for them to touch or hold an unlit torch. Jacko was in his element with children climbing all over him for pictures with him.
We were released onto the street eventually and our “minders” who had been on the relay from the start at Stoke Mandeville found the crowds’ enthusiasm a little overpowering at times. They were all police officers in running gear and were brilliant at joyfully spurring us on whilst physically, and firmly, pushing people out of the way.
It was an amazing experience and Sandy who had performed in the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics considered that that had paled into insignificance compared to being part of the torch relay.
Then to The Games; when we put on a show, the British are second to none. Everything worked! The vastness of the Olympic Park was incredible; even with around 100,000 people there seemed to be space. Worries about travel, security, queues for everything were unfounded and nowhere did one see a sweet paper or even a scrap of litter. The thousands of volunteers were the friendliest and most informed helpers and must have gone home at night with aching faces from their nonstop smiles, laughing and cheerful chatting.
For a wheelchair user, once one had got over the challenge of buying tickets, the facilities and viewing positions were exemplary. For everyone the atmosphere was astounding and truly sporting. Even the stragglers were cheered as winners and although obviously there was huge and loud enthusiasm for Team GB, all medal ceremonies were cheered equally.
Eva Loeffler, Poppa Guttmann’s daughter, was made Mayor of The Paralympic Village and, despite her very heavy schedule; she kindly invited us to the Village as her guests. The bust of her father was prominent in the International Paralympic Committee reception area and has been the object of a plethora of photographs with elite Paralympians. Lord Seb Coe, The Duchess of Gloucester, Lee Pearson, Peter Norfolk and many other Paralympians were greatly impressed with Jacko’s sculpture of the Father of The Games and were delighted to see it there.
Like the Park, the Village was a triumph of design, building, landscaping and cleanliness. The facilities were astounding with gyms, recreation areas, pubs with no beer and a medical centre with equipment to shame the finest hospitals. Everyone there wanted to know if we were enjoying the games and nobody was too busy to have a friendly chat. We were made to feel part of the whole village and the Paralympic spirit and treated as such by all.
The great wish is that this feeling of national pride, closeness and friendliness to each other and the cheerful, smiling happiness continues. Not one cross word or aggression was heard or seen. If this transfers into daily life we will all be better for it.
Thank you London 2012, Poppa Guttmann and the British people.
Chairman, The Poppa Guttmann Trust