Interview with Steve Lowe 12 March 2020

Interviewer April Byrne 

About Steve

National GB Disability athletics squad member, gold medalist across 6 track and field athletic events and GB record holder, training at Stoke Mandeville across 1990’s. Athletics coach, Paralympic Team Supporter at Barcelona Paralympics ’92, Atlanta ’96, also Athens 2004. London 2012 Games Maker for the Olympics and the Paralympics, Accessibility Champion, Disabled Supporters Board Member for West Ham, Associate Lecturer at Northampton University (Disability/Accessibility). Recently retired from 42-year career as a Logistics Inventory Analyst.

How did you get involved in your sport? When were you aware of Paralympic Sport?

I was at the Limb Centre in Northampton in 1989, to have my prosthetics MOT’d before a holiday. I noticed a large poster asking people to become involved in disability sports including athletics.  I was 30 and would be joining quite late, but I knew I was very fit from cycling. I was cycling 60 miles a day from Daventry to Warwick Stratford upon Avon, and further for fun. I had always cycled, cycling as a teenager with my fishing rods, fishing with my friend’s many miles from home. By the time I was 30 I had 3 young children and they kept me fit.

Athletics felt a natural progression for me, I started training and was quite good.  I started to win straightaway.  My events were athletics, sprinting, track and field. I was attending all the big events, representing the East Midlands.

In 1992 (at the same time as Linford winning the 100m Olympic Gold!) I became British record holder and champion across six events at the same time - 100 metre sprint, 200 metre sprint, long jump, javelin, shot and discus.


I was asked to join the British national squad and trained at Stoke Mandeville. I had competitions nearly every week. I had a good life out of it.

I was an athlete part time and working full time with a young family. My employer was supportive, sponsoring me and allowing time off. I was coaching too, so it was a very busy time in my life.

I did suffer injuries to my left leg, truth be told I wrecked the bones in the stump I was born with running for those 4 years, so needed a further amputation in 1993. But I overcame that quickly. I was eager to get back. It ended my running career but within six months I built up to become a thrower. I started bench pressing and weightlifting. I had switched from running to throwing because of my leg. When I had recovered from the operations, I was able to get a pair of Flex legs (blades) so I did the throws in competitions, became a throws coach and got back into sprints too.

Alongside being an athlete and athletics coach, I was also part of the Paralympic volunteer team. Sponsored by the Catholic Church organisation called 'Across' we went to Barcelona in 1992 and had a fantastic time.  It gave me a taster. 

What do you consider your biggest achievement in sport and life?

At a home international at the Alexander stadium in the 90’s, I represented Great Britain in 100m and 200m. I won gold in both.

The gold medal was struck by the Birmingham Mint, it was a special moment. It meant a lot. I kept my GBR number tag for years.

There was also one crazy weekend. I call it my own 'super weekend'. One Saturday at Kingston upon Hull Costello Stadium in the 90’s, I represented the East Midlands in the British Championships. I won all of my six events; the East Midlands squad with my help won gold in the 4x 100 team sprint event and later I broke the discus record by an additional 6.34 meters, I got drug tested for that, I knew that I was in fine form. Straight after the last event, I drove to Wales for an Invitational International Competition taking place the next day. Again, taking part in six events, winning gold in them all and receiving a special Welsh slate memento along with each of the gold medals. I went home on the Monday morning exceptionally proud and with a cardboard box laden with gold medals and special trophies.

Getting a good one in. Javelin throw, back in the 1990’s at a Midlands competition.


All through this time I also coached athletics for disabled and able-bodied groups. At Daventry Athletics club, I coached able bodied groups Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Saturday at the Marriot Centre in Rugby a disabled group. Sunday morning in Wellingborough for Weandel Warriors disabled group and also at Banbury sports park.

Every other week, there were events with the East Midland Team. I was learning technique all the time and with coaching I became more disciplined.

In 1997 I stopped competing due to age and more injuries but I carried on coaching at Rugby and Northampton Sixfields Athletics club until 2007.

Everybody who’s ever been successful in sport, I think, has had a role model. Did you have a role model that inspired you when you were younger? Or was there any inspiration for you during your sporting career?

I was very lucky, when I was a child in Roehampton Hospital London, having my legs repaired, I met Sir Douglas Bader, the WW2 Spitfire pilot and flight commander (who had lost his legs in a plane crash). He was a true inspiration.

I also met Pele at Atlanta (in the airport!) in 1996 and got to chat with him on a recorded TV news channel. He was the Minister for Sport and Disability at the time for Brazil. He is a true sporting hero, icon and gentleman.

When you talk to these people, you get a sense of achievement from them. Pele was very generous and arranged photos of him meeting us, and Brazil sport T-shirts for our supporter’s group that we collected after the Games, a very lovely gesture and fantastic memory for us all who had the privilege to meet him in person. There is a buzz around these people who are truly inspirational. 

Meeting Pele at Atlanta airport 1996

What did it feel like to win/and lose medals?

Oh, I will give you a tip here.

At an event in the mid-1990s, an international invitational. I warmed up for javelin. A Belgian, tall and skinny, was talking to me. He asked how far I had thrown. I said 40 odd meters, he told me he threw 50m, it got into my head, I then threw 27m and he beat me by ONE meter!   It turned out he was a table tennis player and thought he’d have a go at javelin to make up numbers!

From that moment on, I would do warm ups away from everybody else. In the 90’s, around the track we would all natter, it was more open and laid back.  But I had learnt my lesson!

So, I would look at the referees and judges only, register, and not talk to anyone. You need to get in the zone. I had my Sony Walkman, I would listen to 'It’s a Kinda Magic' by Queen, which I really loved and then I was ready to go over. Win (normally with my first throw) then sit and watch!

I made defeat into a good thing. It helped my discipline.

Generally, events were more social in the 90’s. Before events we used to go for a curry, socialise, smoke, we would pop into Milton Keynes to go to the bars and have a few drinks. But today it is very different, that is how all the records are being broken.

How much time do/did you devote to training?

I used to walk to work. I'd be coaching and doing exercises with the kids. There was continuity in my fitness from a teenager to my adult life.

I never went to a gym. Because I couldn't operate the apparatus so I devised my own weights and exercise regime at home.  I was always ambitious with my targets and had to innovate.

Thalidomide caused congenital amputations to all my limbs. Doctors had told my parents I would never walk. I started walking on my stumps aged nine months, was given prosthetic legs aged one. My parents saw my determination and drive to want to be as near normal as possible. I had pains, trips, cuts and sores to cope with, but this was normal daily practice, my skin soon toughened up.

I feel I became an innovator of life overcoming issues. It’s easy to give up, walk away or ignore issues when faced, but for me I had no choices I have had to pass these obstacles and have learnt how to adapt and conquer and overcome things others may well have walked away from.

Did you ever stand on the starting blocks fearful that if you failed, you’d be letting down other people?

No, it's all for yourself, you against the starting pistol, your training, your pride, your opportunity.

I am pleased with my achievements and the level I was able to go to. But my restriction was my health. I knew I had gone as far as I could. I had to have an operation to correct my leg. Now I am older in my 60’s suffering from arthritis and recently had shoulder surgery, due to my throwing arm I guess, but on reflection I wouldn’t change a thing, it was worth it and made me the person I am today.  

Experiences of the Paralympics and Stoke Mandeville?

In the early 90’s I was invited to join the British national squad and train at Stoke Mandeville, but I was not part of the Barcelona ‘92 team. Although then ranked 5th in the UK my left leg health deterioration interrupted my performances, until I had the operation in 1993. No regrets, that’s life.

I was asked to be part of the Paralympic volunteer team taking a Paralympics supporter group to Barcelona, taking children aged 15/16 (and their parents). Fantastic times had by all.

Myself and two friends, David and Steve (swimming squad) at the closing ceremony Barcelona Paralympics 1992

With mainly the same group, I also went to Atlanta in 96 (where we met Pele at the airport), also to Athens 2004 and London 2012.

For London in 2012, I was a Games Maker at both the Olympics and Paralympics. As one of 70,000 volunteers, I was very lucky, having put myself forward, I was placed on tunnel number 1 inside the iconic Olympic stadium.  My role was accreditation control, leading in the athletes. I was in the Olympic Stadium - best job ever – I got to watch Usain Bolt break the record and the Jamaican 4x4 relay team run 36.84 World Record. That was a special moment. I sometimes did double shifts; I didn’t want it to end. I had witnessed many records fall to the brilliant athletes. Then a few weeks after I was back again for the Paralympics.  What a fantastic time I had, it is hard to put into words really, but the word awesome gets close. 

I was at Stoke Mandeville so often. It's a nice feeling every time I arrive at the entrance door. Nice and welcoming, it triggers good memories.

I have spent thousands of happy hours over the years at Stoke Mandeville, competing, coaching, socialising with fellow athletes. I now feel very excited being part of new opportunities volunteering with the fantastic team of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust. Lucky aren’t I.

What does sport mean to you?

Sport to me is the most effective way to reintegrate with your society if you're suffering from any illness or disability. Especially team sports.  It keeps you disciplined and mindful of your limitations. It enables you to set targets and perform to your best ability, which you can use in all other walks of life. It also enables you to aspire, to aim for something, winning is great but the taking part and being with others in your position is a true medical tonic and booster to life in general. 

Myself and the great Richard Whitehead MBE, 2013 Olympic stadium.

Did you know what Richard did? He ran 40 marathons in 40 consecutive days. Richard said after “I wanted to reach out to people of all ages and abilities and encourage people into sport, as part of the legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics”. I was a Games maker again for the Sainsburys Games.

What does the Paralympic movement mean to you?

It gives people with disabilities opportunities to excel in their sport, without prejudice.  The movement has grown from the 40s, 50’s and 60s and has given all those people with disabilities the chance to showcase what they can achieve, inspire others, and become fitter both mentally and physically.

Stoke Mandeville & Sir Ludwig Guttman

When did you become aware of Sir Ludwig Guttmann and Stoke Mandeville and the Paralympic Story?

When I was competing at Stoke Mandeville back in the early 1990’s we knew the story of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, however it has only really been the last several years that his story has been promoted outside of the main hospital. We knew about Sir Douglas Bader who helped set up the sporting buildings and track.  Both are equally truly historic figures creating a remarkable legacy for disabled sports athletes at Stoke Mandeville.

I first became involved with the Paralympics in 1989, aiming for selection in the travelling squads.

Perceptions to Disability

Do you think the success of the Paralympic Games has made society generally more tolerant, and has given them a better understanding of disabled people?

Since the very early days of the Paralympic movement, coverage of the sport has increased. With the coverage comes more acceptance by the varied audiences. Acceptance of disabled people in society depends on the part of the world we talk about; lesser developed countries have less coverage hence lesser understanding of the disabled people’s circumstances. On the whole the more of the world that witnesses the truly remarkable feats and accomplishments of disability sports, the better acceptance will become. TV coverage of Para sports is growing because it is a spectacle that most audiences appreciate, and support without prejudice.    

Because you’re somebody that’s had so much experience, not just of Paralympic sport, but of sport in general, and of life – what would you say to a young person just starting out in their Paralympic career?

I was lucky at the age of 29 to discover disability sports.  A little old but I still had a good athletics career and lifestyle that many don’t have the opportunity to experience. My sporting achievements and life would have been even more fruitful if I had entered the arena 15 years earlier, so my advice is as follows:

  • The younger you are experiment with all sports.
  • Find a sport or a few that you can improve with as you grow, never sacrifice health over sport and only participate in sports that suit you personally. Be aware of growing spurts and body developments at younger ages and teenage years. Don’t exercise at a gym until advised by a professional.
  • Get into a club as soon as you can, helps with technique practicing with your peers, helps you become a team player. Also enables you to have the coaches to advise and watch you develop. Coaches can forward you to more senior experienced groups and have the national contacts.
  • Always enjoy what you do. If you have to go out at 5am every day in the rain to train then think about this when you select a sport. Do you love it enough to make sacrifices? Food and social activities will be part of your life but limited, can you make those sacrifices?
  • So, go and have fun, it’s all up to you. Make some history, leave your mark ………