Margaret Maughan on an archery range in 1962

Great Britain's first Paralympic gold medal winner

20th June 1928 – 20th May 2020

In Malawi in 1959, Margaret suffered a car accident at the age of 31 leaving her paralysed from the waist down. Returning to Britain, the Lancashire born domestic science teacher, was treated by Dr. Ludwig Guttmann at the National Spinal Injuries Centre, Stoke Mandeville. Dr Guttmann pioneered the use of sport in rehabilitating spinal injury patients. Margaret said about choosing a sport:

I suppose it was coming from Guttmann, but it was just the thing, we had to do something, it was in our programme. I expect some people hated it, but we all had to have a go at something…. but archery was the one that I really enjoyed.

Less than a year after her accident she competed at the National Stoke Mandeville Games and was subsequently asked to participate at the Rome 1960 Paralympic Summer Games.  Margaret won the archery event, the Women's Columbia round open, becoming Great Britain's first 'Paralympic' gold medallist. She wasn't aware that she had won a gold medal due to the disorganised scorekeeping and was on the team coach when she found out she needed to attend the medal ceremony. Margaret said of receiving her medal:

And the day went on and we were put on the coaches to go home and somebody said “Where’s Margaret Maughan? She’s needed for a medal ceremony.” So they had to find my wheelchair amongst all the others, lift me out, and off we went to a very nice little podium with ramps to get up to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places and to my amazement I was in the gold medal position.

Margaret also took part in the Women's 50 metre backstroke and as she was the only competitor in her class she won gold!

Margaret Maughan at a National Paralympic Heritage Trust event with her gold medals from the Rome Paralympic Games in 1960.

Margaret with her 2 gold winning medals from the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games 

Margaret carried on her Paralympic success, competing in archery and bowls at four more Games. The Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympics, the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympics winning gold in dartchery, the Toronto 1976 Paralympics winning silver in dartchery, and the Arnhem 1980 Paralympics winning gold in lawn bowls.

Margaret Maughan with other women wheelchair athletes playing bowls. Umpire to the back of them.

Competing at the Toronto 1976 Paralympics

Margaret was considered a legend among Paralympians and was given the honour of lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Margaret said of this moment:

I feel very proud to be at the start of all this. From just a team of 70 British people in wheelchairs at the first Games, now there are hundreds from all disabilities.

Margaret Maughan holding the lit Paralympic Torch at the London 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony

London 2012 Paralympic Games © Getty Images

As well as her achievements as a Paralympian and support of the Paralympic Movement Margaret volunteered in her local community of Watford. Margaret died on the 20th May 2020 at the age of 91. 

Angela Hendra MBE, Paralympian said:

As a shy and lonely 14yr old patient at Stoke Mandeville, Margaret taught me so much in coping with life in a wheelchair and encouraged me into sport. Our friendship lasted a lifetime, I spoke with her just a week before she died. I will always remember her with affection.

Nick Webborn OBE, chair of the British Paralympic Association said:

Although her passing is extremely sad the fact that she lived until the age of 91 is testament to the work of Sir Ludwig Guttmann who transformed the care of people with spinal cord injury, and that through sport people with disabilities can enjoy rich and fulfilling lives.

Martin McElhatton OBE, CEO of WheelPower, British Wheelchair Sport said:

Margaret was a pioneer of Paralympic sport and sport for disabled people and was an incredible competitor across several sports.  She was a shining light and a wonderful example to other disabled people of how to live a full and active life after a spinal cord injury. Margaret’s sparkling personality and verve meant she was unique and special to so many people. We were proud to induct Margaret into the WheelPower Stoke Mandeville Hall of Fame in 2013 in recognition of her incredible life and achievements

Interviews with Margaret Maughan

Memories of archery in the 1960s

Margaret's experience of the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games 

Interviewer Jon Newman, 10 August, 2012 

I didn’t know anything really about the games apart from the fact that in the summer I had gone out with one of the nurses that helped me and she had taken me out round to the back of the hospital where these foreign people as well as British people were doing a wheel past. They were having what was in fact called in those days the Stoke Mandeville International Games. I found out they were held every year in August. It didn’t really register at the time, but I went home Christmas 1959 armed with my set of arrows and a bow and all my baskets that I had made and I thought right, I would look around for an archery club. We lived in this small village between Preston and Southport and there was an archery club in Preston. So my dad used to drive me once a week to this little club and they were very kind to me; thy helped because they had to string the bow for me and help me with the arrows; and this was what I was doing. In fact my father was a market gardener and we had land at the back and he got a big bale of straw and I had a target and I used to do a bit of practising on this straw bale.

Then I was invited to come back to Stoke Mandeville to what they called the National Stoke Mandeville Games and I did quite well there and won this [round] - it wasn’t the top archery class but it was a middle round called the Columbia Round and I think we shot 60 yards the furthest. And I took part in all these things because in those days we used to have a go at everything, used to do field events and swimming and so on.

So I went home and a few weeks later to my surprise I got this letter saying you’ve been invited to be in the team, selected actually, to be in the team to go to Rome in August and well this was of course very exciting, So I agreed I would like to do it and go. At the appropriate time we all had to assemble at Stoke Mandeville in the hospital, because this stadium where we are today wasn’t at that stage built. So we were given a green tracksuit and a blazer and we had a Panama hat as well and we were all given a medical exam; and then the next day we were all off to the airport. We had to be lifted; because there were 70 people in the team we all had to be lifted into the coaches, our wheelchairs folded and cushions stowed and this took time - we had some marvellous escorts and they worked very hard - and off we went to the airport where the same thing happened: out of the coaches, all lifted again, wheelchairs found.

And there was the plane and we were taken onto the runway and again we had to get four at a time into this wire cage onto a fork lift truck up to the door of the plane and again lifted in, put in the seats and off we went to Rome and we arrived at the airport and were loaded into coaches and set off to the Olympic village which is where we were staying. And you can imagine as we arrived there and drove into the village, all the accommodation was on stilts, up flights of stairs and it turned out that the accommodation that had been selected for us was for some unknown reason taken away by the Italian Olympic Committee and we were given these rooms up two flights of stairs, But the Italian Army came up trumps because at every flight of stairs they had two soldiers on duty , or other escorts as well, and they were there all day and to well into the night, because there was lots of merriment going on at night in the club on the Olympic site. And there we were. 

Tell us about winning your medal.

I happened to be in this Columbia Round archery which was the first of the archery events; so I think it was the first event of the first day. We went off and we all sat, the ladies and the men, all together in one long line and there was an escort for each target and we shot our six arrows and it seemed like these hundreds of little people seemed to rush to the targets and they wrote down ours scores, and they knew because each arrow had a different coloured

fletching and they brought back the arrows. But they didn’t actually tell us what our scores were, but I did vaguely know that I was doing quite well. Anyway we got to the end of the competition and again we got our arrows back and we didn’t get our score, so I had no idea what [it] was; and later on I realised you had to have a score card of your own and put your scores down and I hadn’t done it. So I just went off then and joined my other friends and went to support everyone else, because we supported each other in the different events. And the day went on and we were put on the coaches to go home and somebody said “Where’s Margaret Maughan? She’s needed for a medal ceremony.” So they had to find my wheelchair amongst all the others, lift me out, and off we went to a very nice little podium with ramps to get up to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places and to my amazement I was in the gold medal position.

No one had told you until that point!

And they were playing the National Anthem, God Save the Queen and an important Italian official presented me with my medal; and I didn’t know at that stage, but it turned out that was the first medal that Great Britain had won on that day. So it’s gone down in history. It’s just lucky that I happened to be in that first event on that first day.

Download a pdf of Margaret's full interview about the Games here