Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Chariots of Gold

So the comedown of post Olympics and Paralympics begins. Like a bad hangover from Gin, we’re upset. And for good reason, this year London 2012 has really been electric. We have come a far way from the cynicism that a lot of people felt for London holding the games, but I think it is safe to assume that 99% of those people were smitten by the high spirits of the athletes and visitors and generally smothered by the happiness that it brought to the UK. This year has meant a lot for the Olympics, it’s the first time all the countries have included women in their teams. Difficult to think that this wasn’t the case before now, but I am proud that the UK, one of the most multicultural and accepting countries in the world, can put this down in women’s history. Also technology has developed so much that the equipment of the Paralympics are better than ever, even if it does stir up some controversy over the length of prosthetic limbs. It hasn’t been short of drama this summer!

The Paralympics was the star of the show though. It has been so inspiring and overwhelming. I must give Kudos to Channel 4 for their very powerful ad campaign for the Paralympics, “The Superhumans”. How fitting. And boy did they smack that superhuman power in your face. Great Britain saw 120 Medals. 34 Gold. Broken world records. The lot. Ellie Simmons being a British favourite (swimming), along with medal winners Will Bailey (table tennis), the emotional Matt Walker (Swimming - I think we all shed a tear with him), Hannah Cockroft (T34), and a our very own Cardiffian Tracy Hinton, who didn’t win a medal, but at 42 she’s still competing in the Blind Running, fantastic. These are just a few of the fantastic people that made the Paralympics what it was, they are all worthy of their superhuman title.

But today I want to talk about my own Superhuman.

Ron Davies is a long time family friend. I remember as a child getting excited knowing he was coming to visit, and waiting by the window for him to arrive. He intrigued me; he was impossibly old, looking from young naive eyes, and even something as simple as getting out of his car was something that astounded me.

Family photo with Ron (yes that's me giggling my ass off)

Ron is a photographer, and has been for almost quadruple me lifetime. He was an official photographer in WW2 and travelled all around the Far East for his work. When the war ended he carried on his photography work back in Wales riding around on his motorbike with his camera, enjoying talking about his work and teaching others about photography.

Unfortunately in winter 1950 he was injured in a road accident that resulted in him permanently using a wheelchair. But this did not stop or discourage him. Not only did he carry on with his photography work, but he was determined that being in a wheelchair was not going to restrain him. Ron was treated in Southport Hospital, where he met Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish Doctor who fled Nazi Germany before the Second World War and settled in Oxford as a spinal injury researcher. Before Guttmann, if someone was injured, paralysed or an amputee they were to rest, and not strain themselves by trying to move too much and were generally struck with incompetence from their injury by demand. But Guttmann encouraged these people, often soldiers injured from the war, or victims of accidents such as Ron, he supported them to become more active. This in turn would increase their confidence, help warn off depression and generally give them a better quality of life for the future. Guttmann organised the Stoke Mandeville Games for the disabled and encouraged his patients to take part, he called them Parallel games, which has now grown into the great Paralympics. He thought that it would give his patients a new perspective on their disability, and in turn change the publics’ perception after years of disabled people being wrapped in cotton wool.

Ron took part in the Stoke Mandeville International Games in 1952, the forerunner of the Paralympics and first-ever such event for disabled people, he competed in the Wheelchair Basketball team. For all his story telling, he kept this one quiet! There weren’t many countries, or people, involved so early on in the Games (see link below). But it was something that the contestants could enjoy, and in return give them happiness and confidence in knowing that their life is not restricted by their disability.

Parade in 1952. Ron is in the front left, representing GB.

You can view the footage by following this link -

With time comes change, the footage from 1952 seems worlds apart from the spectacular scenes we witnessed from this years Paralympics. The equipment has changed, the technology progressed, the people have changed and the countries have multiplied. The spectators have changed, their attitudes have developed and spirits heightened. Time does good things.
Ron didn’t win any medals, but being in a wheelchair wasn’t a disability to him, it was an extension of him, and that is something I always admired about him. And it is something that is admirable of all the athletes, and not just in London 2012, but from across the world and all the Paralympics, and to each and every individual who challenge themselves.

And that deserves Gold.

(Not really uncle, Uncle) Ron Davies OBE is currently 90 going on 91 this December living in Aberaeron, and has recently confessed his hidden Paralympics history, which gave me the inspiration to write this piece. This is my homage to him for inspiring me my whole life and reminding me that there are no restrictions that I cannot overcome. He helped kindle my own love for photography from seeing his passion for photography so strong itself, and for never forgetting my birthday, and for all this I thank him. Diolch Ron.

Here are some of my favourite photographs by Ron...


Related Links

Rons Gallery 

Tracy Hinton

Chanel 4 ad

Link to watch the Ad, go on, for old time’s sake.