“They thought people with disabilities couldn’t get married”

As she departed for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, her husband pushing his wheelchair through the London airport concourse, Susan Cunliffe-Lister, Dowager Countess of Swinton, Baroness Masham of Ilton, might well have wondered how a disabled person would be accommodated elsewhere. of the world in the mid-1960s.

Four years earlier, in Rome for the ninth Stoke Mandeville International Games for wheelchair users – retrospectively recognized as the first Paralympic Games – she had won a gold and four silver medals in swimming pool, as well as a bronze medal in table tennis. Rome, she reflected afterwards, had been “interesting.

“We arrived in Rome to find that the Olympic village where we were staying was built on stilts,” she later joked, “how were they going to get 400 wheelchairs up and down? They had to bring in the Italian army.

His pioneering gold medal became the center of an Italian media storm. Going out to dinner with a friend one evening, she thinks he must have slipped off the side of his wheelchair. The Roman press, however, embroidered this story to imply that they had thrown it into the Trevi Fountain, as the ultimate offering to guarantee a return to the Eternal City.

In Tokyo, there would be other cultural misunderstandings. “The Japanese people didn’t think a disabled person could get married,” she said of her husband, Lord Masham, who had stayed with her in the athletes’ apartment, “making cups of tea for his competitors.

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