Professor Nick Webborn OBE is an experienced sports medicine practitioner who has worked extensively with national and international sporting organisations, and was elected Chair of the British Paralympic Association (BPA) in 2021.

Early Life

Born in Swansea in 1956, Nick studied medicine at the Royal London Hospital before joining the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a Junior Clinical Official in 1977. 

In 1981, while playing rugby for the RAF he suffered a spinal injury, his spine having been dislocated at the base of his neck, which required surgery. The operation did not achieve the expected result and it was some years later that Nick discovered the Consultant had not performed this operation before. 

Transferred from a side room in a modern hospital, to the National Spinal Injuries Unit at Stoke Mandeville two weeks later, he was somewhat shocked to find he was in an open ward in a wooden hut that had been part of the original hospital that Dr Guttmann used in 1944.   

Nick spent eight months at Stoke Mandeville, the first three of those flat on his back, before being transferred to the Defence Military Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC), then at Headley Court in Surrey.

Reliant on a wheelchair and walking stick, Nick returned to the RAF until his discharge in 1985.

Involvement in the Paralympic Games

Nick has worked at ten Paralympic Games, one Olympic Games (London 2012) and two Invictus Games and has been a member of the International Paralympic Committee's Anti-doping Subcommittee.

Apr 2003 - Nov 2007: Medical Adviser British Paralympic Association.

2005 - Jan 2011: Medical Advisory Group LOCOG.

London 2012: Chief Medical Officer for ParalympicsGB.

He has travelled the world making lifelong friends and colleagues, more than that, he has found a purpose and a passion in life that connected him back to sport.

Beyond the Paralympic Games

The season he was injured, in 1981, there were 13 rugby players with spinal cord injuries. He became involved with the Rugby Football Union investigating injury in rugby, as collapsing of the scrum was then a major issue and they developed several recommendations as a result to improve safety in sport.

May 1997 – Present: Managing Director, Sportswise Ltd.
While working as the Medical Adviser to the National Sports Medicine Institute Nick established Sportswise, Sussex Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, a sports medicine clinic specialising in the treatment of sports injuries from grassroots to elite level, helping people remain active at all ages and in all walks of life.

Apr 2014 - Sep 2014: Chief Medical Officer Invictus Games.
Responsible for the organisation of medical services for the 2014 Invictus Games where more than 400 competitors from 13 countries, all injured servicemen and women, participated in nine sports at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Lea Valley Athletics Centre.

June 2014 - Oct 2015: Chair of Scientific Commission at the International Federation of Sports Medicine (FIMS). 

From Nov 2014: University of Brighton Clinical Professor (Sport and Exercise Medicine) 

Nick having undergone a major sporting injury in his life understands the importance of an individualised holistic approach to treatment and rehabilitation of injury, as well as the use of physical activity in disease prevention and management. He has a wide range of skills including the use of diagnostic ultrasound for injury assessment, and of the use of ultrasound guided procedures to ensure the most accurate injection therapy.

He has developed an academic career as a world-leading researcher in injury and illness prevention in Paralympic sport, as a Clinical Professor in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the University of Brighton, a member of the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Medical Committee and visiting Professor at Loughborough University. Nick has published extensively in the areas of physical activity and health, sport for people with disabilities, and general sports medicine topics including Achilles’ tendinopathy.

He provides consultancy services for projects requiring sports medicine or science input and lectures nationally and internationally on various aspects of sports medicine, physical activity, and health.

Watch and listen to Nick in a 2020 public lecture, The evolution of Paralympic sports medicine, here

He took up sport again, although somewhat late, competing in wheelchair tennis for Great Britain, becoming national doubles champion before picking up a shoulder injury that forced him to stop playing. As an athlete, Nick represented Great Britain at the World Team Cup in 2005.

Appearing on the BBC's Desert Island Discs in February 2022, Nick’s first disc was Heroes by David Bowie and as his luxury item he chose his ‘adapted Segway, with a built-in espresso machine’, listen to the episode here

Achievements and awards

In 2016, Nick was awarded Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours list for services to Paralympic Sports Medicine and the British Paralympic Association. In an interview with the Eastbourne Herald, Nick said: 

After the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games, I became enthralled with Para sport. It has always been a pleasure and a privilege to work with such inspirational athletes. …. I can now look back and reflect that my own struggle has shaped my life to help advance a field of medicine for athletes with disabilities that had received little attention

2022 saw Nick awarded Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Sports Medicine and Sport.

For me there are two elements to it, there is the contribution to sport for my work with the BPA, but also my contribution to sports medication - the academic side and the work that I have done at the University of Brighton in leading research into Paralympic sports medicine across the world. It is lovely to have that dual recognition in the nomination.

Interview with Nick

February 2018

What job do you do? And what's your connection with the Paralympics and disability sport?

I am Chair of the British Paralympic Association and Professor of Sport and Exercise Medicine at the University of Brighton. In 1981 I broke my neck playing rugby when I was a doctor in the Royal Air Force and I spent 8 months at the National Spinal Injuries Unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Since then I've attended 10 Paralympic Games, summer and winter either as the Great Britain team doctor or with the IPC medical committee. I represented Great Britain in the world team cup in wheelchair tennis. 

What do you know about Ludwig Guttmann as a person? What was he like to work with? What was it like to be his patient?

I first heard about Sir Ludwig 'Poppa' Guttmann when I was an in-patient in Stoke Mandeville. He had passed away two years earlier and had long since retired from clinical practice, but he was still revered within the hospital and still much talked about by the staff. He was clearly a legend in the true meaning of the word. Last summer, I was honoured to visit the town of his birth formerly known as Tost in Germany but now Toszek in Poland. Putting patients first was clearly his ethos and his patients loved him for it even if he demanded a lot from them too. I was very privileged to meet his daughter Eva during the London 2012 Paralympic games where she was the Honorary Mayor of the Paralympic Village.

Why did Guttmann include physical exercise in his treatment of patients with spinal injuries? How did this fit in with his wider treatment philosophy and practice?

Probably and most importantly, Guttmann just recognised those with spinal cord injuries as normal people worthy of the same recognition. It was felt then that the treatment of paraplegics was a waste of time. He recognised the importance of physical activity for health and used sport as a motivation. Guttmann was also fully aware of the positive psychological benefits of physical activity to get a sense of purpose. He felt that sport helped to develop self-discipline, self-respect, a competitive spirit and comradeship. As he put it mental attitudes that are essential for the disabled person’s integration into the community.

What was Guttmann's role in turning the Stoke Mandeville Games into the Paralympics?

On the opening day of the 1948 Olympic Games, Guttmann organised an archery competition between his patients at Stoke Mandeville and those at the star and Garter Home. Just 16 competitors but it was a start. 4 years later, a team from a rehabilitation centre in Holland attended and there started the international Stoke Mandeville games. Guttmann later said I foresaw the time when this sports event would be truly international the Stoke Mandeville games will achieve world Fame as the Disabled Persons equivalent to the Olympic Games. At Rio 2016 over 4000 competitors took part in the third largest sporting event in the world.

You said that you had never met Dr Guttmann - if you could, what would you say to him?

Firstly, I would thank him for his massive contribution to medicine and sport, not only the improved health care but for developing this wonderful movement which has helped shape and change attitudes to disability. I would also tell him about the extraordinary performance athletes with disabilities are now achieving. I think he’d be surprised; he was quoted as saying once that he did not think it was healthy for someone in a wheelchair to do a marathon yet now, they can do it quicker than an able-bodied person.