Since 1946, spinally injured veterans have been using sport as part of their rehabilitation, thus laying the foundation for the present Paralympic movement. In fact since those early days, veterans have always been members of the British Paralympic and International Sports Teams.
It was no small wonder that in the USA, the 'Paralysed Veterans of America' decided there were enough disabled veterans in their country to hold their own games. When a small group of disabled British Veterans found out about these games early in 1987, they decided to ask if they could bring some of our veterans over to compete. A small team was then hastily put together (all international athletes who competed in both summer and winter sports), and on their return BEWSA was born. Annually, we have been sending a team ever since, and other than the Puerto Ricans, we are the only International team allowed to participate. I guess our two countries do have a special relationship after all.
Why did we start BEWSA?
We were all disabled so we knew the sorts of problems we all face, especially when you are newly injured. We are not an organisation for the disabled, but of the disabled and the organisation is run by the members. However, already in the 1980s we saw how sport was changing. Whilst disabled sport was becoming more professional, the national games, where all sports were together, were disappearing. Yes there are still games for the new spinally injured but they are very small and besides, veterans have different problems and not all are spinally injured. So it was decided that something extra was needed for veterans. It’s very difficult to come to terms with a new disability when you have lost your job, in some cases your home, and your friends, all in one go. Civvy street is hard enough to adapt to without the added trauma of war and a disability. One or two of our members have remarked that being able to get away with a bunch of people like themselves, helps stave off the dreaded ‘blues’. That the sports weekends, and other things we are involved with, give them something to look forward to. They can not only challenge themselves but also get fitter. And because we see sport as a vehicle to serve the needs of the members, it doesn’t really matter if you just want to join in and have a go at something new, or meet other people who have a sporting goal such as Paralympics.
We can’t promise to provide the whole selection of sports at our weekends, however we can promise you friendship and support and some fun. We are a close knit community and our members actively support each other. And as we have no paid staff, we keenly encourage those with time on their hands to become actively involved within the organisation. When we went to Alaska a few years ago, one of our late members said of the opening ceremonies ‘When you enter that huge stadium, when you’re all dressed in you kit, and when you enter behind that flag, I feel as proud as punch. I never thought I would ever feel proud again’.
That's the whole point of BEWSA
- It’s where you ‘fit in’.
- It’s where you can represent your country again.
- It’s where you can be proud of yourself once more.