Daughter of Paralympic founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann marvels at London's buzz
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Thursday 23 August 2012
Eva Loeffler has the strongest of connections with both disability and Paralympic sport: she and her father both devoted decades to the causes. The woman appointed as mayor of the Paralympic Village spent a day there yesterday and said: "The atmosphere is absolutely amazing. I'm having a marvellous time – everybody's spoiling me."
Mrs Loeffler has been described as a towering figure in disabled sport. Her father, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who died in 1980, was known as the father of the Paralympic Games. He is commemorated by a life-size statue at Stoke Mandeville stadium.
"He was very driven. He would have been absolutely delighted at what's going on in London," his daughter said. He and members of his family, who were Jewish, escaped from Nazi Germany just before the Second World War, settling in England where he worked for years as a neurosurgeon. Today's Paralympics developed from one of his pioneering ideas for the rehabilitation of those injured during the war.
"Patients thought he was dreadful, nurses thought his ideas were dreadful, and other doctors thought he was mad. He had to fight for everything – but because he succeeded, you see the change in everybody," Mrs Loeffler said. Patients called him Poppa, and although he was loved and respected by them, "he retained that very Germanic strain of authoritarianism – it was difficult to disagree or argue with him".
Sir Ludwig founded the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, but as well as providing innovative treatment, he directed patients towards sporting activities which included wheelchair polo and basketball, archery and table tennis.
Mrs Loeffler, a physiotherapist, used to help out at early competitions as far back as 1948, when the Paralympics was entirely run by volunteers. "I used to help pulling the arrows out of the archery butts and picking up the ball during table tennis matches," she said.
After his retirement, her father remained involved in initiatives that led to the creation of the International Paralympic Committee, as disabled sports evolved from very basic beginnings into the major activity it is today.
"He would be so impressed at what's going on here. His dream has come to fruition," said Mrs Loeffler.
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