THE team at Hatherleigh Nursing Home were delighted to welcome record-breaking paralympic champion Margaret Price, MBE, of Halwill, to stay recently and hear her story.
Evolve Care Group’s writer Beth Tingle, covers the life histories surrounding the organisation’s many care and nursing homes and the extraordinary people that live in them.
She said: “Forty-one years after she struck gold at the 1980 Summer Paralympics, Hatherleigh has done the same. We are thrilled to have the legendary sportswoman join the family.”
Margaret did not initially strive towards a career in athletics.
She had planned to work in healthcare and was training to become a nurse until she was tragically struck down by a car on a zebra crossing in 1973.
At just 23, Margaret was completely paralysed from the arms down and partially from the neck.
Neurologist, Sir Ludwig Guttman believed that engaging in sport was critical to the rehabilitation of people with spinal cord damage.
On July 29, 1948, he held the first competition for war veterans at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire — this would eventually evolve into the Paralympic Games.
Margaret told Beth: “I already loved sport before the accident, but not much was known about athletics for people in wheelchairs back in the 70s. I knew that I could not just sit in a chair and do nothing for the rest of my life. So, I contacted Sir Ludwig Guttman himself, and he invited me to the National Paraplegic games. They were surprised when they saw me because= I hadn’t told them the full extent of my disability on the phone. I was worried they wouldn’t let me compete if I told them, but when I got there, I realised it was okay and I began my training.”
Along her journey, Margaret would visit Lloyds College in 1977 and meet the love of her life —Frank. As Margaret described it: “We met, and that was it.”
The two married and Frank became heavily involved with her training: “I would ask Frank if he wanted to pursue a sport for himself, but he said he was happy supporting me with mine.
“I really believe the support I had from Frank is what has kept me going for so long. We were best friends and were married for 28 years, and apart from when I was in hospital, we were together every minute, of every hour, of every day. And every day got better than the last. Love is what kept me going.” With years of diligent training, sheer determination, and with Frank by her side, Margaret’s new found focus would eventually lead her to the 1980 Paralympic Games in Arnhem, the Netherlands.
At 30, she participated in nine events over two weeks, winning medals in all of them: “Because I was competing in nine events, the late great Cliff Morgan from the BBC asked if they could follow me. Of course, I said yes, not knowing just how well I would do. It made better viewing than any of us could have dreamed.”
She finished with five gold, two silver and two bronzes, making a significant contribution towards Great Britain coming in the top five on the medals chart. Even more remarkably, this made her the first woman to win gold medals in two separate sports at the event for both swimming and shot put, making Paralympic history.
Her talents did not go unnoticed either. By order of the British Empire, she was included on the 1981 New Years Honors list for her services to Paraplegic Sport. That was also the year she would be the special guest on an episode of the BBC’s ‘This Is Your Life.’
As Margaret’s time at Hatherleigh came to an end, she left with this thought: “Next month it will be 48 years since the accident. That is a long time for your body not to be working properly. I know the disability is taking over my body, but there are things you can do every day to keep yourself going. I’ve always been good at doing that, and it’s what I’ll continue to do.”