Kevan Baker OBE was nineteen when a road collision caused him to become a T12/L1 paraplegic, meaning he would have to rely on a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Black and white photo of Kevan Baker with his medals.

Image ©Kevan Baker

Early Life

At the time of the accident, Kevan was a university student and was driving his friends to a holiday cottage in Thirsk. Speaking of the accident, Kevan recounts

I swerved off the road, we went off the motorway. There were no seat belts, no crash barriers, in those days.

He was transferred to the spinal unit at Pinderfields, known for its strong rehabilitation programme, and it was there that his interest in Paralympic sport was piqued.

During his time recovering at Pinderfields, Kevan saw two muscular men in wheelchairs come on to his ward. They were there to train for the upcoming 1980 Paralympic Games in Arnhem. At this point in time, Kevan and many others with spinal injuries felt that multiple windows of opportunity had closed to them due to their disability, including the world of sport. Kevan was an eager athlete and county level Rugby Union player at the time of his accident, a passion he assumed he could no longer practice.

Life as a Paralympic Athlete

Black and white photo of Kevan competing in the discus throw event. Kevan Baker competing in the discus at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games

Kevan competing in the discus throw ©Kevan Baker

Seeing these men pursue an athletic career was extremely exciting and inspiring to Kevan, who was keen to discover more about disabled sport. It was a light of optimism to his diminishing prospects in a society that struggled to accommodate disability. He began training in earnest and participated in the British Wheelchair Sports National Games which was hosted by Pinderfields annually.

Kevan competed in a total of four Paralympic Games during his athletic career and additionally broke the world record for discus throw twice. He recollects his experience at the Seoul 1988 Paralympics very fondly, saying the athletes were “treated like royalty” as they attracted crowds of 120,000, a stark difference to the usual 50 spectators he was used to.

Retirement as a Paralympic Athlete

 Paralympians Paul Cartwright and Kevan Baker at the Paralympic Heritage stories from Bradford exhibition

Kevan Baker (right) with Paul Cartwright at Cartwright Hall, Bradford, for the Paralympic Heritage regional stories exhibition

Kevan’s retirement from athletics in the mid-1990s did not stop him from advocating for those with disabilities. Instead, he dedicated his time outside of work to promoting disabled sport in numerous senior voluntary and trustee roles. He was chairman of WheelPower from 1995 to 2018, advocating for more opportunities for those in wheelchairs. He is also a founding member and Chief Executive of the Patient User Group for Spinal Cord Injury (SPINE) at The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, a patient group supporting those with spinal injuries.

Achievements and Awards

Paralympic Games

Kevan first competed and reached the final round of the Men's Discus Throw at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games followed by the Seoul 1988 Paralympics. He went on to win bronze medals at the Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games in the Men’s Discus Throw which were the last Games he competed in.

Other awards and recognition

Throughout his athletic career, Kevan was additionally crowned World Champion at Discus three times and broke the world disabled discus record four times. He also won gold on three occasions at the International Wheelchair Games at Stoke Mandeville.

In 2011, Kevan was awarded an OBE for voluntary services to disability sports. In 2018 Kevan was inducted into the WheelPower Stoke Mandeville Hall of Fame.

Kevan Baker, Paralympian, speaking at a WheelPower event.

Kevan speaking at a WheelPower, British WheelPower Sports event ©WheelPower

Oral history interview with Kevan

Interview by Dr Rosemary Hall, 23rd September 2020

Kevan talks about advocating for those with disabilities, as Chairman of WheelPower - British Wheelchair Sport (1995-2018) and founding member and CEO of the Patient User Group for Spinal Cord Injury (SPINE) at The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. Download the transcript here