Olympians with a disability – Part Two

Part two in a series on people who have competed at the Olympic Games despite suffering from a physical disability.

1952-56
Lis Hartel (DEN) – Equestrianism
2 silvers

In the 1930s Lis Hartel was coached by her mother Else Holst, but when she reached a national competitive level, Gunnar Andersen, a professional horseman, took over. In the early part of her career she competed in both jumping and dressage, and was Danish champion in dressage in 1943 and 1944. Later in 1944, she was struck by polio. At that time she was pregnant with her second child, and no one thought that she ever would be able to compete on horseback again. But through her determination and strong will she gradually regained function in most of her muscles, although she remained paralyzed below her knees for the rest of her life.

In 1947 she started to compete in dressage again, and she improved her dressage skill together with her excellent horse Jubilee and was selected for the Danish team in the 1952 games. Although she needed help to get on and off her horse, she surprised everybody by winning the silver medal in the dressage competition in Helsinki. Four years later she won another dressage silver medal at the Equestrian Games in Stockholm, also this time together with her favourite horse Jubilee. She won the unofficial world championships in dressage in 1954, and was Danish champion in dressage in 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956 and 1959, the last time with a new horse, Limelight.

Lis Hartel’s equestrian achievements caught interest among ordinary sport interested people in Scandinavia, where equestrian among many was regarded as an upper-class sport. She was a charming and charismatic woman, extremely popular not only among followers of equestrians, but also among people outside the horse circles. She also became a role model of other victims of polio, showing what was possible to achieve through training and determination. She was invited to do dressage exhibitions in several countries in Western Europe, and raised funds for treatment of polio victims. In Doorn in the Netherlands, a centre for disabled was named after her, the Lis Hartel Foundation.

2008-2012
Natalia Partyka (POL) – Table tennis
Natalia Partyka was born without a right hand or forearm. She began to play table tennis at the age of seven and four years competed in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. At eleven years of age, she became the youngest Paralympian in history. By 2004 she was clearly the Paralympic table tennis player and began to make an impact in able bodied competition by winning the European Cadets title. Partyka has gone on to win three consecutive Paralympic titles, compete in both the Beijing and London Olympics and win medals at the able bodied European Championships.

1996
Paola Fantato (ITA) – Archery
At age 8, Paola Fantato was diagnosed with polio, and has been wheelchair-bound since. She picked up archery in her twenties, and quickly became quite successful at archery events for disabled. She won a Paralympic bronze medal in 1988, upgrading that to gold in 1992. She was then invited to join the Italian Olympic team and qualified for the Atlanta Games. While eliminated in the first round, she became the first athlete to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year, winning team gold and an individual bronze. Her successes have only increased, adding two golds in Sydney and one in Athens, as well as two world titles to her tally.

1948
Jack Dearlove (GBR) – Rowing
1 silver
Jack Dearlove was 12 years old when he lost the lower part of his leg. He was hitching a lift to cricket practice on a friend’s bicycle when the wheels of the bike stuck in some tram lines. The two boys were thrown into the path of a steam wagon and his friend was killed outright. By the time of the London Olympics of 1948 Dearlove had twenty years’ experience as a coxswain which included steering the Thames Rowing Club to a victory at the Henley Regatta. He refused to wear an artificial leg, walking with the aid of crutches instead, and this proved problematic for the British Olympic Association who forbade him for taking part in the opening ceremony of the London Games.
Dearlove went on to have a successful career in business with the Sainsbury’s organization. His son, Sir Richard Dearlove, served as head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 1999 to 2004.

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