20 September 2023

From 11-15 September WheelPower welcomed 72 spinal cord injured patients to its annual Inter Spinal Unit Games event. The Games provide an opportunity for recently injured adults to discover the life transforming benefits that come from taking part in sport. From the physical health to the emotional wellbeing, sport can be a very powerful tool during their rehabilitation.

The participants travelled to the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, Stoke Mandeville Stadium alongside their teammates and physios from Spinal Units across the United Kingdom. Eleven units took part in the event and that included teams from the National Spinal Injuries Centre in Buckinghamshire, the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow and Musgrave Park in Belfast.

Institut Guttmann Inter Spinal Unit Games 2023

This year’s event also welcomed its first European entrants as the Institut Guttmann from Barcelona brought a team of four ‘Back to the Origins’ for an unforgettable experience. Carles Yepes, Physical education specialist from the Institut explains further, “It was an honour to visit the place where the Paralympic movement started and take part in the Games. Sir Ludwig Guttmann came to Barcelona in 1965 to open the first spinal cord injury hospital in Spain and we are proud to be able to carry his name today. We had a wonderful week at Stoke Mandeville and thank WheelPower for taking care of us this week.”

Over the course of 3 days the participants were able to try 20 different sports, all whilst being supported by qualified coaches and enthusiastic volunteers. The sports included, athletics, tennis, sitting volleyball, bowls, rowing, golf, wheelchair rugby, and handcycling, to name a few.

For many participants this event was the first time away from the hospital environment, or the first time away from the comforts of home, so everything was done to make the experience as stress free and enjoyable as possible. As well as the sport the social element of the event is promoted throughout and participants are encouraged to share stories and thoughts with others in a similar situation to them.

“I had my injury last November. I was a professional trampolinist and had an accident that fractured my C5/6 vertebrate. I spent 5 months at Stanmore, London and underwent loads of physio. When the Games was mentioned I was interested in representing the team and I thought ‘why not’. So far I’ve had a great time and tried loads of different things. When I get home I might look into the shooting locally and maybe even rowing too when I’m a bit stronger, and just see where it takes me.” James, 20 from Epsom, Surrey

Josh, 35 from Kettering was injured at work and now has Cauda Equina syndrome. He spent 3 months at Stoke Mandeville to continue his rehabilitation. “To be around likeminded people in the same situation is so important and you are able to talk about topics you can’t with everyone else. For me playing sport and going to the gym is a really good release, and its also about the camaraderie with your team that’s also so important. I really liked the basketball and rugby, and did powerlifting and kayaking for the first time. The atmosphere here is so lovely and there’s people here to help you at all times, and most importantly its just good fun!”

Brooke, 17 from Belfast was injured in a car crash in April 2022. She broke her spinal cord at C4/5 and spent 6 months in hospital following the accident. She is now feeling stronger and ready to ‘say yes’ to more opportunities. “It’s been really good to come over and try stuff. I loved the swimming and the table tennis so far and the team has all clicked. I hope to carry on some sports at home and find a local team. Its been amazing to meet so many different people and for us to share our stories. It gives you so much confidence and comfort to not be the only person in a wheelchair.”  

Sylvia, 58 from Glasgow had a great week at Stoke Mandeville. She said, “It’s been amazing experience and I’m loving every moment. I loved badminton and archery, and it’s the first time since my injury that I’ve tried these sports. I injured myself in November 2022 whilst rock climbing, and I’m paralysed from the neck down, although I can move my arms. Everything in my life has changed and I was hoping coming here I’d find a sport to focus my mind and energy because I’ve really missed it.”

“I did my rehab at Stoke Mandeville after a spontaneous spinal bleed. Following surgery to release the pressure I arrived at the unit in May 2023 and only recently returned home. I’ve always enjoyed playing sport socially but being active is now essential for me after injury. Coming to the Games was amazing and what WheelPower offers makes such a big difference to people like myself.” Janine, 59 from Wokingham.

Swimming at 2023 Inter Spinal Unit Games

The Inter Spinal Unit Games first took place in 1988 and in the years since have seen many thousands of recently injured people discover talents for sport that have led some of them all the way to the Paralympics. This year WheelPower and Stoke Mandeville also celebrated 75 years of the Paralympic movement since their founder Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann first hosted an archery tournament between two groups on the lawns of the hospital. The visionary work continues through WheelPower to this very day and the charity is proud to provide movement, activity and sporting opportunity for patients during their rehabilitation. An estimated 2,500 people are paralysed each year in the UK and the Games continue to deliver a vital opportunity for everyone who attends.

“The Inter Spinal Unit Games is an incredibly important event in the calendar and once again in 2023 we saw the huge benefits that come from taking part in this life changing event. Many of our participants arrive at Stoke Mandeville with nerves and anxieties but once the event begins you see the real power of sport in action, and smiles and joy just grows day after day. We are grateful to all of our coaches, volunteers, our physical activity advisors and physios for making this event such a welcoming one and we hope that following this experience many of those people we watched this week will go on to enjoy sport and activity for many many years to come.” Emily Weller, WheelPower Head of Sport

The 2023 Jean Stone Trophy Winners - The National Spinal Injuries Centre, Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire

The WheelPower Inter Spinal Games will return in 2024!

Find out more: Inter Spinal Unit Games

About WheelPower

WheelPower has been providing opportunities in sport for people with physical impairments for 75 years. Based in Stoke Mandeville, the home of the Paralympic movement, WheelPower is at the heart of wheelchair sport. From first-timers to Paralympic medallists, we support and promote participation at all levels. We have seen how playing sport can enrich lives, offering tremendous physical and psychological benefits, whatever your age or ability.

While sport can develop confidence and improve your health, it’s also a great way to put a smile on the faces of those taking part. Each year, WheelPower supports over 38,000 disabled people to participate in sport and activity across the country. Join us in this mission as a participant, supporter or volunteer and together we can help transform lives through sport.