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
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Life and Style
fashion

News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news

Video: It is the type of thing no parent wants to hear

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

Langley James : Field Support Engineer; Dynamics, SQL; Manchester, £33k+Car

£33000 - £36000 per annum + Car+Laptop+Phone: Langley James : Field Support En...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planning MRP Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's most progressive and innovativ...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Sales Executives

£19000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to our clients continuing s...

Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

£15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game