Val Robertson née Forder competed in 3 Paralympic Summer Games. A multi-sport wheelchair competitor she won a total of 7 gold, 4 silver and 2 bronze medals for swimming, athletics and fencing events. 

Image credit: Scottish Disability Sport

Early Life

Valerie “Val” Forder was born in London in 1943. Before being selected for the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games, Val had represented Stoke Mandeville at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1954 and 1958 and England at the first Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Perth, Australia in 1962. 

She met her future husband, John Robertson, a fellow competitor, at the first Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Perth, Australia in 1962.

Life as a Paralympic Athlete

At the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games, Val medalled in every event she competed in, except the Women’s Club Throw, Val was described by Scottish Disability Sport as the,

outstanding all-round wheelchair athlete of her generation.

Competing at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games she won 6 golds, including one for the first Women’s Pentathlon event. She also won bronze in the Women’s Foil Novice Team at the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games.

Retirement as a Paralympic athlete 

After retiring from Paralympic competition, Val contributed to the development of the Scottish Disability Sport (SDS) Lawn Bowls programme by joining the Lothian Disability Sport team and unsurprisingly excelled in this sport too. To this day, Val is the leading female wheelchair bowler to ever play in the SDS National Bowls Championships. 

In the early 1970’s Val, in conjunction with the Thistle Foundation, developed a ramp which allows people with severe mobility difficulties to play lawn bowls. The ramp, with Val demonstrating its’ use can be seen in the 1974 film, produced by the Disabled Living Foundation, called “Not Just a Spectator”.  the bowling section starts at 30:50 minutes.

Val also took up wheelchair curling as a leisure activity. 

Val visiting the Paralympic Heritage Centre in 2019

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

At the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games she won 1 gold and 2 silver medals for swimming, silvers for individual archery and the Women’s Foil Team, with Shelagh Jones and Diana Thompson and a bronze for discus.

Her next Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv in 1968 saw even greater successes. Val won gold medals in the 50m backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. Two more golds in the 60m wheelchair race and the pentathlon as well as a gold in fencing for the Women’s Foil Team with Sally Haynes and Shelagh Finnegan. 

At the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games, competing as Valerie Robertson, she added another bronze for the Women’s Foil Novice Team, with Janet Swann, Phyllis Waller and Irene Nowak. 

Other sporting events

Val represented Stoke Mandeville at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1954 but there are no records of which events she competed in and again in 1958 where she competed in swimming. 

She also represented England at the First Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Perth, Australia in 1962 and the Second Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Kingston, Jamaica in 1966. 

At the Fourth Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1974 she represented Scotland, under her married name, Valerie Robertson. 

Other awards and recognition

In 1964 Val was awarded The Bill McGowran Trophy, an award for an athlete with an impairment, by the Sports Writers Association. She was the second recipient and first female winner on the strength of her performance in Tokyo. She also won the Anderson Trophy for Sports Personality of the Year.

In 2012 she was among the first 20 members of the Scottish Disability Sport Hall of Fame.


  • Brittain, I.S. (2012) From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic
    Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing.