Jane Blackburn, Paralympian

Early life

At the age of 19 Jane was travelling with her boyfriend to Silverstone to watch the Grand Prix when her car turned over on a bad corner. As her car had a soft top roof, there was no real protection and she was left with a broken neck. She consequently spent a month in a local hospital in Redhill where they did cervical traction on her head in an attempt to keep her neck straight.

When I was told I was going to Stoke Mandeville I thought “where’s that?” I thought it was up near Stoke-on-Trent; I didn’t have a clue, no one mentioned Aylesbury or anything like that so I didn’t know where I was going.

A month later she found her way to Stoke Mandeville where she was officially diagnosed with a broken neck and advised that she would be bed ridden for the rest of her life. It was at Stoke Mandeville that she had her first introduction to Dr Ludwig Guttmann and underwent Physiotherapy.

It was Dr Guttmann who encouraged Jane to concentrate on using her arms more, rather than to try to re-learn to walk. When Jane’s mother questioned why he took this approach it is claimed that he replied, “Because your arms and hands are far more important, to her they’ll be far more important than legs.” This is what led Jane to take up sports such as archery and table tennis as a form of recovery, which she went on to excel at.

Jane joined the club at Stoke Mandeville called SPAC (Stoke Paraplegic Athletics Club) where she would train on a regular basis in both archery and table tennis.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

Just a matter of months after she became a tetraplegic Jane was able to compete at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. Most notably during this time Jane was able to win a silver medal in the singles table tennis competition which would begin her reign at the top. At the earlier Games, athletes often competed in multiple sports and Jane chose archery, lawn bowls, swimming and table tennis.

A gifted table tennis player Jane was Paralympic Champion at four consecutive Paralympic Games – Heidelberg 1972, Toronto 1976, Arnhem 1980 and Stoke Mandeville in 1984.

Jane Blackburn receiving the gold medal for table tennis at the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games

Jane Blackburn receiving the gold medal for table tennis at the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games

Recollections

In an interview with Jon Newman in August 2012, Jane describes the Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy that took place at Stoke Mandeville in the 1960s.

Jane also recalls a time where she first met Dr Guttman while she was at Redhill:

I think when Dr Guttmann actually looked at me and the X-rays he said it had been done very well although they wouldn’t have done it here because it’s too dangerous, but I think it has helped me over the years so that was one bonus. But he did actually come to see me when I was in Redhill and he was shocked that I hadn’t been to the toilet for a month, and he had a fit and my legs had swollen up to about three times the size that they should have been. He called for the consultant: “Has this girl been to the toilet?” and he said “I don’t know” and the nurses didn’t know - and I hadn’t.

Another instance that Jane recalls is her experience during the Barcelona 1992 Paralympics where she addresses the progress that was made up to this point. She claimed,

Barcelona - I really enjoyed too because that was my first time of having the same kit as the able bodied Olympians because when I first started they didn’t do that, you just had a green tracksuit and for table tennis you had just a green T-shirt, two I think, which wasn’t enough ...we had so much stuff it was unbelievable. We had you know rather silly things like walking out shoes, things that we might not use again.

This showed how far the Paralympics had progressed from Jane's first experiences in Heidelberg 1972 to Barcelona 1992.

Retirement as a Paralympic athlete

After Jane retired from competing she played an active part in both the Table Tennis Association and for WheelPower (British Wheelchair Sport), coaching and managing many events as well as serving on the WheelPower Board.

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

From 1972 to 1992 Jane competed in five Paralympic Games in table tennis, archery and lawn bowls winning 5 gold, 4 silver and 2 bronze medals.

Trophy cups from Heidelberg 1972 and the ISMGF Table Tennis European Championships

Trophy cups from Heidelberg 1972 Paralympics and the ISMGF Table Tennis European Championships

Other awards and recognition

Jane was selected as one of the first five torchbearers in the Paralympic Torch relay which started here at Stoke Mandeville before heading to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London for the Opening of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

In April 2017 Jane was presented with the WheelPower Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of her amazing career in wheelchair sport, and inducted into the Stoke Mandeville Hall of Fame.

Related content - Jane Blackburn and Physiotherapy at Stoke Mandeville

References

  • https://www.paralympic.org/jane-blackburn
  • https://www.crawleyobserver.co.uk/sport/table-tennis-crawleys-jane-blackburn-honoured-lifetime-achievement-2090893
  • https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/photos/jane-blackburn?family=editorial&phrase=jane%20blackburn&sort=best#
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wus3WOrq2u4
  • http://www.mandevillelegacy.org.uk/page_id__13.aspx?path=0p4p13p