A display of Paul Cartwright's Paralympic medals, sports kit, programmes and photos.

A display of Paul Cartwrights Paralympic medals, sports kit, photos.

Paul Cartwright competing in wheelchair racing on the athletics track

Paul Cartwright started wheelchair racing in 1978 and competed in the 100m, 200m, 400m sprint and 100, 400m relay, and first ever wheelchair marathon for which he achieved the British record at the 1984 Paralympic Games. He was the first British Paralympic racer to reach the 100m final. Paul held all the British records in all distances at one point of his career, but he left the middle distances to people like Mark Agar. The 100m, 200m and 400m were his realm,"the middle distance boys knew that if I was still with them at 200m to go they had a race on their hands."

I was born with Spina Bifida so I spent a lot of time in hospital in my early years. I was determined to do well at something and though I loved history, I was not an academic success at school. I went to BDSA athletics championship with Yorkshire Schools around 1978.  I started to make a bit of a reputation, and a chap called Morris Hallas used to run the Kirklees Disabled Sports Association came to my School to recruit me to the Association. I’ve always been a fisherman and I asked if they did fishing, and he said they did even though they didn’t in order to get me involved. I am still a serious course fisherman.

I competed in my first international event as part of the GB Team in 1981 at the International Stoke Mandeville Games, and then I really started concentrating on my training for wheelchair racing. Back then you had to find the money and the sponsorship yourself. I did a sponsored 9 mile wheelchair push in an old Everest and Jennings chair from Batley to Huddersfield to raise money for my new sports wheelchair, it absolutely poured with rain, the sort of rain that bounces off the road, and it was tough going in those chairs. 

I made a point of joining an able-bodied athletics club, at Spenborough, West Yorkshire to train. The reason for this was that I had already realised, I needed some professional athletic coaching on a full time basis – rather than just at squad training weekends, every 6 weeks. In Spenborough I had coaching every week night in the gym. You have to remember I was working full-time as well, working for Kirtlees Leisure Services.

Of course it wasn’t that easy in 1981, because no one had ever considered taking on a disabled athlete, in fact prior to joining the athletics club, I had initially been refused access to the club, because of fears that my wheelchair would damage the track.

Sports wheelchair used in the 1984 Games, made by Bromakin Wheelchairs.

Paul Cartwright

3 wheeler sports wheelchair prototype made in 1986 by Jackson Cycles in Leeds.

3 wheeler sports wheelchair prototype made for Paul Cartwright in 1986.

"The foot rest was too high so I had a new version built which was more of a V shape to cut down wind resistance. It moved my centre of gravity forward to give me more power to push."

One strong memory is competing in racing at the World Championships in Sweden 1986. It was very expensive out there, and of course we were funding ourselves and I desperately needed more money and it was not easy to organise such a thing in those days. Luckily we had brilliant support team and Jean Stone, involved in the games since 1960 worked her magic to ensure I got some.

I competed up until 1987, when I burnt my foot very seriously, I had no feeling in it and fell asleep in front of a fire. I had to take a break to recover from the injury, got married and divorced and came back in 1990 briefly to compete in the National Paraplegic Games and won the pentathlon.

Despite my successes and outward drive I had a real fear of failure that I believe held me back. Today with sports psychologists there is help to get athletes in the right mental state. ‘Sporting Body Sporting Mind’ was a book I read at the time, that game me the appearance of confidence that I didn’t really have.

I retired after 1990, and with my love of fishing became the organiser of the Regional Office for the Disabled Course Fishing for the North East on behalf of what was the National Federation of Anglers. As a Team we won two national championships.

In 2012 I briefly returned to sport when I found there was a lack of big power lifters. So I turned my hand to that with a view to getting to London 2012, helped by Anthony Peddle and for a short time I was the UK Power lifting champion, but I have to admit there were no real competitors, but because of my age I couldn’t get to the Games. I was benching nearly 200kilos as in my earlier years.

Today I stick to my early love, fishing.