Chris Hallam MBE was one of the most influential athletes in Paralympic sport, competing in 4 Paralympics and holding world records in 100 and 200m wheelchair racing.

Chris Hallam at the finish line of the London Marathon

Chris Hallam winning the London Marathon wheelchair race in 1987. Image © Getty Images

Early life

Chris Hallam was born on the 31st December 1962 in Derby and raised in South Wales, where he quickly developed a passion for swimming. He worked as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool and would often get up before 6am to go for a run or a few hours of training in the pool. In his teenage years he became a competitive swimmer, participating in swimming trials and representing Wales. 

At the age of 17, on the way to swimming practice, he lost control of his motorbike and damaged his spinal cord in the accident, just days before he was due to be selected for the Welsh national swimming team. The accident left him paralysed below the chest. Although now paraplegic, Chris worked hard on his rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville hospital and soon became involved in sport again. Despite his disability, he was still determined to succeed in sport. 

I wanted some independence – a hard thing to achieve in a wheelchair – but sport offered me the best chance! 

After rehabilitation, Chris spent some time living and travelling in South Africa before returning to the UK and starting his career in wheelchair sport. His signature look consisted of sunglasses and colourful clothing resulting in the nickname ‘Shades’.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

Chris represented Great Britain at four Paralympic Games – Stoke Mandeville (1984), Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996). In 1984 he won gold for the 50m breaststroke but was very underwhelmed by the response of the public. 

Hardly anybody heard about it, I hoped by achieving gold I might get noticed and attract sponsorship.

That was when he decided to switch to the track. He spent long hours in the wheelchair on local hills and roads or even strapped to his chair on his treadmill at home. To find new ways to improve his performance, Chris endlessly carried out research into sports science and psychology. 

Despite his success at the Paralympic Games, he was best known for competing in the London Marathon where he won the men’s wheelchair event in 1985 and 1987. Both times he broke the course records (2.19.53 and 2.08.23). Both occasions were pivotal moments for disability sport. For the first time the British public got to see wheelchair athletes competing alongside able-bodied sportsmen. Chris stood out from the crowd during his races, not just as an athlete but also through his visual appearance. He dominated the races with his charismatic personality and his bleached hair, sunglasses and colourful outfits and racing wheelchairs.


Tanni Grey-Thompson talks about Chris,

Disability sport wheelchair racing needed someone with Chris's personality to challenge and push the barriers and make people take notice...the youngsters in the sport today need to thank him as they wouldn't have the sport today without him 

Photo of Chris Hallams racing wheelchair

Chris Hallam's racing wheelchair. Donated to NPHT.

John Harris remembers Chris:

Quite simply, Chris was my hero. For me, Chris was the first of the true professionals in Paralympic sport. He was the consummate athlete who prepared for every event down to the smallest detail.

The Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths remembers Chris:

Chris Hallam was a pioneer for disabled sport and led the way for others like Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson to succeed.

Retirement as a Paralympic athlete

After retiring from his competitive career, Chris returned to education and studied for an undergraduate degree and an MBE at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff where he worked with a number of younger athletes. He organised several national wheelchair events and from 1990 to 1992 he was Chairman of the British Wheelchair Association. 

He went on to coach successful British athletes such as Rose Hill, the British record holder for the marathon, and Dan Lucker, who became world junior champion. He also developed a number of other wheelchair racers within the Disability Sport Wales academy system. During his coaching career he held many coaching and mentoring positions and even took on the role as Head Wheelchair Racing Coach for the GB team at the 2006 World Championships. He was a strong personality who pushed the boundaries and often upset the hierarchy and those in authority to stand up for what he believed to be right. 

Chris twice pushed his way around Wales (1987 and 1997) with fellow Paralympian John Harris to raise money for a wheelchair-accessible training centre in Cardiff as well as supporting young athletes in purchasing racing wheelchairs. For one of the races, they travelled 600 miles in 37 days, visiting 46 towns. During this race Chris was very unwell with kidney failure and went on to have a successful kidney transplant in 1999 with a living donation from his father.Both events resulted in an increased profile for Welsh disabled athletes. 

In 2011 he was diagnosed with lymphoma and received chemotherapy. Unfortunately, he wasn’t well enough to attend the London 2012 Paralympics. Despite receiving treatment, he didn’t recover and died on the 16th August 2013 age 49. Many people shared tributes to him following his death, including Prime Minister David Cameron and numerous fellow Paralympic athletes.

John Harris said of Chris:

Such a loss… he still had so much to contribute and so much to give. He will leave some fantastic memories and a legacy that will live on for as long as we have the Paralympic Games. He would’ve absolutely loved to be here today and see what he’s left these kids, that legacy is phenomenal!

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

Chris represented Great Britain at four Paralympic Games – Stoke Mandeville (1984), Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996). In 1984 he won gold for the 50m breaststroke but was very underwhelmed by the response of the public. He won the bronze medal at the Seoul Paralympic Games in the 400m wheelchair race, followed by bronze in Barcelona over 100m. He also held the world records in the 100 and 200m wheelchair race.

Other sporting events

Chris also won the Great North Run on four occasions (1986, 1987, 1989 and 1990)

Other awards and recognition 

Chris became Disabled Sports Personality of the Year in 1986 and in 1988 was awarded an MBE for his services to disability sport.

Interview with Chris Hallam

A snapshot of Chris as a person and his athletics career can be seen in this fantastic 2 min clip courtesy of BBC Wales:

Mavericks: Sport's Lost Heroes


  • BBC Wales, Mavericks: Sport's Lost Heroes 
  • The Telegraph, article by Tanni Grey-Thompson