Yvonne competed in bowls at the Arnhem 1980, Stoke Mandeville 1984 and Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games. She won two silver medals at her Paralympic debut the Arnhem 1980 Games.

Yvonne Matts with her husband and coach Peter, torchbearers at London 2012

Yvonne with her husband, Peter, torchbearers at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Early life

Yvonne Matts, née Hawtin, known as Eve to her family, was born in Coventry on July the 25th 1947, and lived there for most of her life. She suffered a severe spinal injury in a car accident in 1966 which left her totally paralysed from the chest down.  

In 1989 she married Peter Matts, who had been her coach since 1978. Peter and Yvonne had known each other as children but lost touch when she moved to London to pursue a career in dancing. The two met again when, after her discharge from hospital, Yvonne was housed in a maisonette beneath Peter’s parents.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

After the accident, Yvonne spent a year at the Princess Spinal Unit in Sheffield before moving to Stoke Mandeville Hospital for rehabilitation. At Stoke Mandeville, having tried archery and shooting Yvonne settled on bowling and went on to compete in the Inter-spinal Games.  

In 1978 she won her first serious medal at the Stoke Mandeville National Games and was one of three Coventry lady wheelchair athletes selected to represent Great Britain at the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Summer Games.

Yvonne Matts nee Hawtin competing at bowls

On the 11th of August 1983, Yvonne met Muhammad Ali who was opening a DIY store in Coventry, who invited her and Peter to stay at his mansion during the Paralympic Summer Games scheduled to be held in Los Angeles in 1984.

Yvonne said at the time: 

It was fantastic. He gave me his address and telephone number and told me to contact him.

Unfortunately, because Los Angeles pulled out of hosting the Games, they were unable to take him up on his offer.

Retirement as a Paralympic athlete

After retiring from competition in 1992 Yvonne continued to play bowls for many years and she never lost her love of dancing, with Peter spinning her chair or enjoying a slow dance sitting on her lap.

Yvonne passed away on the 4th of March 2018.

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

Her Paralympic debut at the Arnhem 1980 Summer Paralympic Games saw Yvonne win two silver medals with Gill Matthews in the Women’s Pairs 2-5 and the Women’s Singles 2-5.

The Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympics saw her win gold in the Women’s Singles Paraplegic A2/4 and two more silver for the Mixed Pairs Paraplegic with Ken Bridgeman, and Women’s Pairs Paraplegic with Rita Thompson. Yvonne also competed at the Seoul 1988 Summer Paralympic Games.

Yvonne Matts medals

Yvonne's medal collection

Other sporting events 

Yvonne was a consistent competitor at International and National events from 1979 to 1992.

Yvonne's medal achievements

Interview with Yvonne's step daughters Debbie and Tracy

Interview by Vicky Hope-Walker, May 2018

They (Yvonne/Eve and their father Pete) loved dancing. Once on holiday Dad asked if there was a service lift from the bar to the dance floor, two burly men said there wasn’t but enthusiastically carried her down in the chair, Dad was worried, always looking after her, though she didn’t need looking after. Dad would spin her in the middle of the dance floor and he would do this tick-tack toe dancing all around her, and people would watch clearing the floor, and cheering them on. Then slow dances would come on and he would sit on her lap and he would have one hand on one wheel and her on another and he would bury his head in her neck and they would turn the chair backwards and forward. They had such fun, nothing was difficult for them, and they always found a way.

We were babies when we first met her, our parents were still married and our father’s parents lived in a maisonette, where Yvonne had the ground floor flat. Every Sunday we visited our grandparents and saw Yvonne whom they were very close to. It was after she had had her accident and she would take us for rides on her chair. I don’t know how old I was about 4 or 6.  She had had a car accident near Leamington Spa in March 1966 resulting in a high spinal break, C3 or C2. She was taken to the Princess Spinal Unit in Sheffield where she was there for a year or so. She had to learn to use her hands again picking up matchsticks; she had a lot of muscle loss in her hands.

My Dad and Eve grew up together, knowing each other from childhood growing up in the same area as Coventry, though he was three years older. They both left school at about 15 and Eve went to London to do her dancing and Dad had gone into scaffolding work and met our Mum during that time.  Mum and Dad spilt when I was 14, but Eve was always there because of visiting our Grandparents regularly. We used to poke her legs and say "can you feel that", and she would say "no", and I used to think yes she can, it was like a game, we didn’t understand it. We used to get into her chair and wheel it around the flat; we’d say I can’t get that because I can’t walk. When my parents divorced I went to live with Dad for a while because I missed him so much. Then Eve started popping round to Mum and Dad’s house before they put it up for sale. It was strange when I look back because Dad was really sad that the family were being split up, and he used to cry, but on the other hand Eve would say things will sort themselves out Pete, they always do, and I remember that. I remember being in the garden with them and their friends, music on and dancing on the patio and then the house got sold and Dad moved in with Eve in the flat, but before he did Eve sent Dad a letter, all about her disabilities.

She always went back to Sheffield Hospital; our Dad wouldn’t take her anywhere else. No one touches my Eve he used to say, at Sheffield they all knew her.

How aware were you of her competitions?

We used to go but weren’t aware of where, at that age we did get a bit bored watching bowls. We’d sit on the side with a bottle of pop.

She started with archery and shooting but then focused on Bowls. It was Stoke Mandeville that actually got her into sports because she was getting quite low she said and then she went to the Wheelchair Games, and joined the Rugby Thornfield Indoor Bowling Club, who made her the athlete she became.  That was the turning point for her she said it helped her find her way. Rugby Thornfield Bowls club twice staged the Paraplegic Bowls internationals and British Sports Association Disabled Games. 

Dad and Eve used to have fun over shoes and boots. She liked shoes but they never got worn out, because she wasn’t walking on them. When they cleared things out they would put them on top of the dustbin outside of the bungalow, they would sit and watch people pick them up and say they aren’t worn and take them away, and find it really funny watching secretly from inside. She loved faggots, and would make her own. They had faggot and pea nights. Dad would spray paint her wheelchairs and brighten them up.

On a holiday in Italy when they flew out the airline lost her wheelchair and the airport gave them a yellow chair, which they hated. Her chair arrived three days later, Dad didn’t tell anyone. He arrived in it out of the lift, shooting out sat in the chair into the foyer where we  were, then leapt out and said, ‘It’s a miracle’, so typical of him.

There is a photo of her in an egg shell blue Invacar, she loved it. Dad got it for her birthday and it was all decorated, it gave her more freedom. 

Discussing the items donated by the family: 

  • The number of medals show the opportunities to participate in sport started fairly early on.
  • We haven’t got all the medals as she used to donate a good deal of stuff.
  • One jacket looks like something out of the film Grease. Everything was kept in boxes in the attic or wardrobe. The quality looks better from the past.
  • Photo of the whole team going off to South Korea, South Africa.  The lady sat next to her there was the Table Tennis Champion.
  • Arnhem in the Netherlands was the first Paralympic Games she went to and the lady sat next to her is the Table Tennis Champion.

She went to South Africa at time of Apartheid. She felt that politics should not get involved in sport.

Before the 1984 Games my Dad and Eve had met Muhammad Ali, he was one of Dad’s idols. They met him because he was opening a DIY store in Coventry, and he asked them to wait back at the end. So they waited to the end as he wanted to chat to Eve and wanted to know all about her sports and they became really good friends. They talked on the phone every Sunday until he got Parkinsons. My Dad said a few years ago it's so sad because Muhammad Ali cannot articulate his words anymore, so we can no longer talk on Sundays. Muhammad Ali invited them to stay with him for the 1984 Games but because the Games were cancelled they didn’t end up going to stay with him.

Our Dad had neck problems from an injury and decided to stop work and be her coach from 1978. 1992 was her last year of competition but she still carried on with the bowling without competitions. They were invited up to the London 2012 Games where Eve was a torchbearer.

She was just such a happy person, and just got on with life. I have never seen her complain about anything, nothing. She never talked badly about other people; she is the only woman I have ever know to be like that.


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