‘Paralympics show ability not disability’

Ginny is a strong community figure and neighbours always turn to her for help.
Ginny is a strong community figure and neighbours always turn to her for help.

A world record breaker and former Paralympian from Houghton Regis has praised the 2016 games for changing the public image of disability.

Virginia ‘Ginny’ Zammit-Haymond, who was paralysed from the neck down during a car accident when she was a teenager, first competed in the Paralympic Games in 1972.

Ginny has enjoyed watching the games grow and develop, as Great Britain are currently second in the 2016 medal table, while the 2020 Tokyo games will see badminton and taekwondo added to the schedule.

Ginny said: “People are becoming more aware of what people with disabilities can do rather than what they can’t.

“I wasn’t born born disabled, so when I had my accident I thought ‘this is the end’. But I decided to set myself goals: one was to walk again, and the other was to become good at sports.”

Although she didnt achieve the first target, she retained use of her arms, and had a champion Paralympic career into the early 1980s.

Determined, Ginny won a total of 44 medals in both British competitions and the Paralympic games, competing in various sports, including table tennis, wheelchair track racing, javelin, rifle shooting, discus and swimming.

The ambitous athlete won a gold medal for 100m backstroke in 1972 and in 2000 she became the first tetraplegic woman in the world to swim a mile at Putteridge swimming pool, Luton.

Ginny said: “People with disabilities work so much harder to compensate – friends say to me the word really should be ‘ability’. Paralympic athletes are all the in the same boat - we used to tap hands and congratulate each other no matter what country we were from.”

Ginny’s courage was helped by her friend ‘Poppa’, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, founder of the Paralympics, and her daughter, Laura Desmond.

Now retired from sport, she dedicates her time to charities and teaching.