4th November 1932 - 22nd August 2013

Shirley Ralph Rowe, known as 'Ralph', was Great Britain's first Black Paralympian. His Paralympic debut was at the Tokyo 1964 Games where he competed in weightlifting and athletics. Ralph competed at six Paralympic Games but the biggest achievement of his career was winning gold at the Heidelberg 1972 Games in the heavyweight class.

Image © Christopher Rowe

Early life

Ralph was born and raised in May Pen, Clarendon District, Jamaica, and arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation.

He became a paraplegic due to an industrial accident and spent nearly 2 years at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. It was at Pinderfields that he was introduced to sport and where he met his wife who was a nurse. He eventually left hospital and worked in tailoring in Leeds and then with Leeds City Council as an electrician making the annual City Christmas lights. He lived in Leeds for the rest of his life.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

Ralph preparing for the Tokyo 1964 Games. Image © Alamy

Ralph first competed at the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games, where he won two bronze medals, one in weightlifting (Men’s Heavyweight) and the other in athletics (Men’s Club Throw C). He went on to compete at a further five Paralympics in weightlifting, the Tel Aviv 1968 Games winning a silver medal (Men’s Heavyweight); the Heidelberg 1972 Games winning a gold medal (Men’s Light-Heavyweight); the Toronto 1976 Games winning a silver medal (Men’s Light-Heavyweight); the Arnhem 1980 Games (Men's Heavyweight over 85kg Paraplegic); and the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Games winning a silver medal (Men’s Weightlifting -95kg Paraplegic).

Ralph and the Great Britain Paralympic Team at the Arnhem 1980 Games

Achievements and Awards

Paralympic Games

Ralph had a very successful Paralympic sporting career in weightlifting spanning six Paralympic Games, winning one bronze medal, three silver medals and one gold medal.

Image © Christopher Rowe

Other sporting events

Ralph also competed in weightlifting at international and national level representing the Pinderfields Spinal Unit.

Ralph Rowe at the International Stoke Mandeville Games in the 1970s.
Image © Christopher Rowe

Other awards and recognitions

In 1978 Ralph was awarded The Bill McGowran Trophy for Disabled Sports Personality of the Year.

Image © Christopher Rowe


  • https://www.skysports.com/transfer/news/29877/12089576/ralph-rowe-weightlifter-and-first-black-british-paralympian#:~:text=Ralph%20Rowe%20is%20one%20name,medals%20at%20five%20of%20them
  • https://www.paralympic.org/results
  • https://www.sportsjournalists.co.uk/sja-sport-awards/past-winners-of-the-sja-sports-awards/