Chris Hallam: Athlete whose wheelchair exploits made him an inspiration to thousands

Chris Hallam was a Paralympic champion and medal-winner in both wheelchair racing and in swimming, competing in three Paralympics. He went on to become an inspiration to thousands of disabled athletes, and the public, throughout the country. He was a pioneer at the forefront of promoting disability sport long before the internet and social media, at a time when its profile was still comparatively low. With his trademark sunglasses, which earned him the nickname "Shades", his long, blond locks and his bulging, tanned biceps, Hallam cut a dashing figure in the London Marathon, which he won twice, in 1985 and 1987, setting course records both times.

It was on one such occasion that the teenaged Tanni Grey, later Dame Tanni Grey and now Baroness Grey-Thompson, was inspired by his exploits, saying to her mother, "I'm going to do the London Marathon one day." She won it six times. She admired him, she said, as "the quintessential Paralympic rebel… a maverick, a cool dude, who just stuck two fingers up at the world, and challenged the image of disability. Apart from being a great racer, competing in his multi-coloured lycra, he partied, and was a wild child throughout his career."

Hallam was revered by many as one who had, as Grey-Thompson put it, "broken down all the barriers" that enabled others to go into wheelchair athletics. He was regarded as the first of the true professionals in Paralympic sport and was believed to be the first disabled athlete to receive sponsorship.

Hallam was a consummate athlete who prepared for every event down to the smallest detail. His illustrious career took him around the globe and saw him compete at the Stoke Mandeville Summer Games in 1984, and in three consecutive Paralympic Games, firstly in Seoul in 1988, which was a huge milestone for the Paralympic movement; it was here that the Paralympic Games were first held directly after the Olympic Summer Games, in the same host city and using the same facilities. This set a precedent for Games to come, and Hallam represented Britain in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996. He also raced for Wales at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland and in 1994 in Victoria, Canada.

Early recognition was hard to come by. Grey-Thompson recalled how in 1990 in Auckland, while representing Wales, they had had trouble getting hold of a team tracksuit each. "The Welsh Commonwealth Games Association refused to give either of us any kit because their view was we were 'Mickey Mouse' athletes. We had no recognition but they eventually gave us one vest between the pair of us." Grey-Thompson wore the vest for her 800 metres race before handing it over, unwashed, for Hallam to use in his 1500 metre race the same day. "It was something from the Dark Ages," she said. They were both victorious.

Born in Cwmbran, South Wales, Christopher Hallam was mad on sport from an early age and liked to try everything available. His first love was swimming and he was a decent breaststroker. As a lifeguard at the local pool he would get up at 6am to go for a run before putting in a few hours training in the pool. But when he was 17 his life was thrown into turmoil following a motorcycle accident which left him paralysed from the chest down; the crash had snapped his spine two days before he was due to be selected for the Welsh swimming team.

Although now paraplegic, Hallam realised, he recalled, that he "wanted some independence – a hard thing to achieve in a wheelchair – but sport offered the best chance." He worked hard on his rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville hospital and became involved in swimming again. Within three months he was back training with the same coach – "only I was half the speed I had been." In 1982 he won the 50m breaststroke at the World Disabled Games and at the 1984 Paralympics took breaststroke gold; he was still breaking records in 1995.

After his swimming golds, however, Hallam was, underwhelmed. "Hardly anybody heard about it,"he recalled. "I hoped by achieving a gold I might get noticed and attract sponsorship." That was when he decided to become a marathon man, an unfamiliar notion in Britain at that time, but catching on in the United States. Over the years he spent a few months each year taking part in marathons across the Atlantic and earning good money, much needed for training and living expenses in the UK.

A thoroughbred among athletes, Hallam left nothing to chance with his meticulous planning and hard training. He spent long hours in his local pool, where a lane was cleared for him, and hours in the wheelchair on local hills and roads, or strapped to his chair on his treadmill at home. But, he said, "the treadmill can't really prepare you for the hills. Going uphill you can slow a wheelchair to 3mph as against 15mph on the flat. Downhill speeds can take you up to 30. Then there's the wind: you offer a lot more resistance in a chair than on foot." It was this attention to detail and single-mindedness that made him such a hugely inspirational hero to thousands.

His fellow Paralympian John Harris recalled that he got to know Hallam after his accident and called him the "ultimate hero" and the toughest man he had ever met. In 1986, he completed a 400-mile wheelchair ride in 11 days around Wales to raise money for a centre for the disabled at UWIC (now Cardiff Metropolitan University).

He became Disabled Sports Personality of the Year in 1986 and was appointed MBE in 1988 for his contribution to disability sport. He retired from competitive sport in 1996 and took up coaching, developing a number of wheelchair racers within the Disability Sport Wales academy system.

Jim Munkley, a fellow British team member in Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta, said, "Chris will be remembered as a true legend... Not only was he was true competitor in every sense of the word, but he was also a great character to be around and to have known."

Hallam, who had a kidney transplant over a decade ago, had been suffering from cancer.

Christopher Hallam, athlete and coach: born Cwmbran 1964 or 1965; MBE 1998; died Pontypool 16 August 2013.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
life
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
football
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?