Alan West represented Great Britain at three consecutive Paralympic Games, Tel Aviv, Israel in 1968, Heidelberg, Germany in 1972 and Toronto, Canada in 1976. He won gold, silver, and bronze medals in swimming as well as archery. As an early Paralympic athlete, he inspired many young athletes to take up wheelchair sports.

Alan West, ParalympicGB swimming Team Manager at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games

Early Life

From an early age, Alan was a keen cyclist and in his teenage years he joined Nottingham Wheelers Cycle Club. He soon discovered the competitive side of the sport and competed in time trials and road races, winning trophies for his club. One of his early successes included breaking the club junior record for a road race from Nottingham to Melton Mowbray and back. It is no surprise that he met his wife to be, Beryl, during a cycling event at the club when he was 16. 

Alongside the cycling, Alan trained as Laboratory Technician in the Pathological department of Nottingham General Hospital.

Unfortunately, in 1951, 18-year-old Alan collided with a car during a 25-mile cycle time trial and broke his neck.  He was left paralysed below the chest and with no witnesses willing to testify Alan received no compensation for the accident. Some 23 years later Alan recalled his journey after the accident:

when I see patients being transported to today's Spinal Injuries Unit by helicopter to minimise any possible aggravation of the injury, I cannot but wonder what further damage was caused by the 'Cook's Tour' upon which I was embarked after the accident. In the first nine hours after being disengaged from the wreckage of my bicycle I was taken to three different hospitals by ambulance -- involving heaven knows how many movements from bed to stretcher and back again. Fortunately the third hospital was the spinal unit at Wharncliffe, where the staff were to do such a good, and wonderful job of salvaging what bits of me still worked

Beryl supported him throughout his recovery and rehabilitation journey and the couple went on to marry in 1956.

In a 2006 interview, Alan said his response to being given a life expectancy of ten years, which was the general medical opinion at the time, was: 

I’ll prove you wrong!

After returning home, Alan took on a job working for a motor agency but later decided to train as a teacher, ultimately qualifying as a personal and social education teacher at Nottingham Trent University.

In their free time Alan and Beryl spent many hours outdoors and became passionate about camping. First spending the night in the back of their small van, then borrowing a tent from a Scout group for a week's holiday in Kent, before buying their own tent for holidays to the continent. A few years after their wedding, Alan and Beryl welcomed daughter Diane, who accompanied the couple in their activities and adventures. You can listen or read the oral history interview with Diane here.

For many years after his accident, Alan was unable to take up sport as there were no local facilities available for disabled athletes. He began swimming after seeing an article in the local press about a group of disabled people who were starting a sports club.

Alan recalling his first swimming experiences after his accident:

The latest couple of swimming pools to be built in my own area were specifically designed with the needs of the disabled people in mind. After being confined to a chair for fourteen years, the feeling of freedom in the water was incredible. I would compare it to the weightlessness of an astronaut in space

After starting, as he described it, “paddling along on my back,” he soon started doing the back crawl but struggled with the breaststroke which requires a considerable amount of effort to lift the head out of the water. In 1966 Alan joined Lodge Moor Spinal Unit Sports Club and competed in the National Stoke Mandeville Games which earned him a place in the English team and his first international medal, a silver for a backstroke event.

Life as a Paralympic athlete 

Through the goodwill of the local swimming baths, Alan started early morning training of up to 5 sessions a week and was rewarded by being selected for the British team for the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games in Israel.

Alan went on to represent Great Britain at the Heidelberg 1972 and Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games.

While swimming was his main passion, he also represented his country in other sporting disciplines, winning medals for archery, wheelchair slalom and pentathlon.

Alan commented on the growing acceptance of disabled athletes:

Most paraplegics and tetraplegics try their hands at some form of sport nowadays if only as part of their rehabilitation programme in hospital. Those who retain their interest on returning home appreciate the great benefit to mind and body that a competitive physical activity brings, and not surprisingly it is in the field of sport that I believe the disabled achieve the greatest degree of integration and acceptance by the able-bodied public. For instance, many wheelchair archers are also members of able-bodied archery clubs, shooting on equal terms, and often with much greater success than the physically more able brethren.

Retirement as a Paralympic athlete

After retiring from competitive sport, Alan spent ten years as manager for the Great Britain swimming team, saying 

I had a lot out of the sport and wanted to put something back into it 

Alan died in 2007 at the age of 74.

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

At the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games, Alan won silver in the Men’s 25 m Backstroke class 1 complete and bronze in the Men’s 25 m Freestyle class 1 complete.

He was the top British men’s performer at the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games, adding three medals to his collection, gold in the Men’s 25 m Backstroke 1A and silver in both the Men’s 25 m Breaststroke 1A and Men’s 25 m Freestyle 1A.

Alan West with his daughter Diane returning with his medals from the Heidelberg 1972 ParalympicsAlan with daughter Diane after the 1972 Paralympics in Heidelberg, Germany

Representing Great Britain for the third time at the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games, Alan won gold in the Men’s Pentathlon 1A and, silver medals in both the Men’s 25 m Backstroke 1A and Men’s 25 m Freestyle 1A.

Other sporting events

Representing England at the third Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Edinburgh in 1970, Alan won gold for a backstroke event.

Other awards and recognition

Nottingham Wheelers cycle club made Alan an honorary member shortly after his accident.

 In 1977, he was awarded the Sports Writers of Great Britain, Disabled Sports Personality of the Year, Bill McGowran trophy in recognition of his 1976 pentathlon gold.

Oral history interview with Diane West

Interview by Dr Rosemary Hall with Diane West, 6th November 2020

Diane talks about her father, Alan West and godfather, Dick Thompson, who both represented Great Britain at the Paralympics. Listen to the interview below or download the transcript


  • I. S. Brittain, From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A history of the Summer Paralympic Games, Champaign, Illinois, Common Ground Publishing, 2012
  • Alan West Collection, National Paralympic Heritage Trust
    • Alan West, An Outstanding Tetraplegic Sportsman; Special Supplement, Lodge Moor News, Vol. 5, No.1
    • There’s just no stopping Alan! - Nottingham Evening Post 16/08/2006
    • Death of a ‘one-off’ wheelchair athlete - Nottingham Evening Post 25/10/2007