After representing Great Britain in wheelchair basketball from 1984 to 1987, Martin McElhatton OBE turned his attention to developing wheelchair tennis, taking the position of Chairman of the National Wheelchair Tennis Association of Great Britain which he held for more than 35 years. He has worked at WheelPower, the national charity for wheelchair sport in the UK, since 1987 and has been Chief Executive since 1999.

An early wheelchair tennis photo at Stoke Mandeville 

Early life

In 1979, Martin McElhatton was involved in a road traffic accident while cycling to his job as an engineering apprentice for British Airways and was paralysed from the waist down. After being treated in hospital, he started his rehabilitation journey at the famous Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Injuries Centre, where he soon took up wheelchair basketball.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

After a few years of enjoying the sport, Martin was selected to represent Great Britain as part of the wheelchair basketball team at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games.

Martin talks about wheelchair basketball in the 1980’s -

Martin is front row on the right


Martin recalls the wheelchair tennis demonstration he attended during the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games:

I got picked for the 1984 Paralympic (basketball) team, and it was when I was playing wheelchair basketball at the Games that I saw the wheelchair tennis demonstration involving Brad Parks and a few other players on the two tennis courts at Stoke Mandeville. It was that demo event that ultimately led to wheelchair tennis getting into the Paralympics in Seoul in 1988, but I had no idea of that significance at the time, I just thought that it looked like fun. So, after the Games, myself and a few wheelchair basketball friends ended up going to Berkhamsted Tennis Club and hitting a few balls, and that was really the beginning of wheelchair tennis in Great Britain.

Recalling the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Martin says:

London 2012 was a huge milestone. Having played wheelchair basketball in 1984 at Stoke Mandeville, when the Games had really been in danger of not happening, to then see what happened in London, you couldn’t have had a bigger contrast. To see Stoke Mandeville recognised around the world as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement, to host the torch relay and carry the torch myself, that was a huge honour. 

Retirement as a Paralympic athlete

After the Paralympic Games, he started playing tennis and became part of a group of players that conducted wheelchair tennis demonstrations around Britain to further promote and develop the sport and eventually travelled overseas to compete in events such as the Israel Open, the French Open and the US Open. During these international events, he represented players at meetings of what later became the International Wheelchair Tennis Foundation (IWTF).

Once I’d seen those tournaments I thought it would be great if we could have a tournament in Britain, and one day myself and my close friend Noel McShane attended a meeting about disability tennis hosted by the then Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) Trust in London, ….. Out of that meeting we got to meet Sue Wolstenholme and Danielle Lewis and between us we went on to organise the first British Open at Bishops Park in London in 1990.

As a result of his involvement in these early wheelchair tennis events, Martin took on the position of Chairman of the National Wheelchair Tennis Association of Great Britain in which he remained for over 35 years starting in the mid 1980s.

He also got involved in the International Wheelchair Tennis Association (IWTA) and is, to date, the longest serving President of the IWTA (1997-2013), holding this position until the IWTA was dissolved when wheelchair tennis became fully integrated into the International Tennis Federation (ITF) with the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Committee managing the sport.

In those early years one of the biggest things was to get the two-bounce rule into the Rules of Tennis, officially. That was fantastic and meant that wheelchair tennis players could play with two bounces against anyone, anywhere in the world, because it was sanctioned by the ITF . . . That was probably the biggest rule that was implemented, but to see the number of countries grow from just eight to over a hundred and to see countries from different continents come into the sport, it was fantastic.

Alongside representing athletes on national and international level, Martin also took on coaching positions. He coached on the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Junior Camp alongside the Dutch Open for many years and coached the GB junior team, as well as the GB quad team at the first World Cup quad competition in Barcelona in 1998 where they won the silver medal.

Overall, Martin played a significant role in growing wheelchair tennis as a sport, and his involvement in the sport for over 30 years has seen the sport expand and develop. His coaching, as well as the variety of voluntary roles he took on within wheelchair tennis at national and international level, have benefitted a huge number of athletes.

Martin is Chief Executive of WheelPower at Stoke Mandeville Stadium where he has worked since 1987. WheelPower has been the national charity for wheelchair sport in Britain since 1987, providing opportunities for disabled people to get involved in sport and lead an active life. During his time at WheelPower, Martin has organised and hosted a large number of sponsorship and fundraising programmes to enable young and newly disabled people to enjoy and involve themselves in sport.

Martin was honoured to be a Paralympic torch bearer at the London 2012 Paralympics and shortly after, in 2013, he was awarded the prestigious ITF Brad Parks Award for services to international wheelchair tennis.

He is also a Board Director at Leap, the active partnership which aims to improve the lives of residents across Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes through physical activity and sport, and was a founder Trustee of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust. 

Achievements and awards

Other sporting events

Martin also represented Great Britain at the wheelchair basketball 1986 World and 1987 European Championships.

Other awards and recognition

1997 saw Martin awarded the Torch Trophy Trusts’, Torch Trophy, in recognition of his services to wheelchair tennis in Great Britain as voluntary Chairman of the National Wheelchair Tennis Association.

The Lawn Tennis Association awarded him a Meritorious Service Award for services to tennis in 2009.

In 2013, Martin was issued with a Paul Harris Fellowship by Rotary Great Britain and Ireland.

The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights, Master Wheelwrights Award, was awarded to Martin in 2015, in recognition of his contribution to WheelPower, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis.

In 2017 he won the Jim Cochrane Award for his outstanding contribution to wheelchair tennis.

Buckinghamshire New University awarded Martin an Honorary Doctorate for his services to disability and Paralympic Sport, volunteering within national and international wheelchair tennis and more than 30 years of work with WheelPower British Wheelchair Sport at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in 2019.

In the 2020 New Year’s Honours, Martin was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to disability sport and said:

It is a huge honour to receive an OBE and I am so proud of the work we have achieved here at WheelPower to give thousands of disabled people the joy of playing sport and seeing how it can positively impact their lives. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the last thirty plus years including my family, friends, colleagues and all the amazing people who have let me be part of their sporting journey.