Cover image for A sporting chance : how Ludwig Guttmann created the Paralympic Games
A sporting chance : how Ludwig Guttmann created the Paralympic Games
Physical Description:
114 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 27 cm
Reading Level:
960 L Lexile

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R.H. Stafford Library (Woodbury)1On Order
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Telling the inspiring human story behind the creation of the Paralympics, this young readers biography artfully combines archival photos, full-color illustrations, and a riveting narrative to honor the life of Ludwig Guttmann, whose work profoundly changed so many lives.

Dedicating his life to helping patients labeled "incurables," Ludwig Guttmann fought for the rights of paraplegics to live a full life. The young doctor believed--and eventually proved--that physical movement is key to healing, a discovery that led him to create the first Paralympic Games.

Told with moving text and lively illustrations, and featuring the life stories of athletes from the Paralympic Games Ludwig helped create, this story of the man who saved lives through sports will inspire readers of all backgrounds.

Author Notes

Lori Alexander is the author of several board books and picture books. She made her chapter book biography debut with ALL IN A DROP. She resides in Tucson, Arizona with her family. Visit her at, on Twitter @LoriJAlexander and on Instagram @lorijalex

Allan Drummond is the illustrator of many children's books, including The Journey that Saved Curious George . He studied illustration at the Royal College of Art in London and has lived and worked in France and the USA. Visit him at

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3--6--Ludwig Guttmann was a respected Jewish neurosurgeon in Germany when the Nazi party came to power. When Guttmann relocated with his family to England in 1939, he was denied the opportunity to practice as a surgeon and decided to devote his time to medical research. At that time, patients paralyzed from spinal injuries were deemed "incurables" and left to die in hospital beds. Guttmann did not accept this prognosis: he developed a revolutionary treatment plan that saw unprecedented success, and World War II created many patients who needed his services. He realized that sports could build strength, boost confidence, raise spirits, and develop camaraderie in his patients. What started as a wheelchair sports competition between two hospitals grew into the international Paralympic Games, played on the same schedule and set in the same host city as the Olympics. Alexander covers a lot of ground in this biography. Yet the narrative never feels bogged down by the scope and depth of content; the clear writing employs a simple, matter-of-fact tone. Drummond's charming illustrations, stylistically reminiscent of Quentin Blake, help maintain an optimistic mood even during the darkest moments. Alexander does not reduce Guttmann's patients to objects of pity, but the text frankly discusses the negative implications of infantilizing and condescending attitudes toward people with disabilities. Profiles of accomplished modern Paralympic athletes in the final chapter will help young readers realize the far-reaching impact of Guttmann's work. VERDICT An uplifting biography that spotlights the dedicated physician who saved lives, created the Paralympic Games, and became a pioneer for disability rights.--Elizabeth Lovsin, Deerfield Public Library, IL

Publisher's Weekly Review

Alexander (All in a Drop) brings her accessible storytelling to this well-researched account of the man behind today's Paralympic Games. Jewish neurologist Ludwig Guttmann escaped Hitler's Germany to Britain and later founded a spinal injuries treatment center for wounded soldiers. Fourteen short chapters seamlessly flesh out Guttmann's life and detail how his radical-for-the-time treatment plans--which included occupational therapy and sports such as archery and wheelchair basketball--helped patients formerly known as "incurables" to live and thrive. Competitions he organized for patients who had paraplegia later evolved into the Paralympics. Illustrated vignettes by Drummond (Pedal Power), as well as numerous archival photos and simple medical diagrams, keep the narrative moving apace, though some, including a cartoon-style soldier struck by shrapnel, appear lighthearted for the subject matter; sidebars detail paraplegia, the nervous system, and the historical treatment of people with disabilities. Brief portraits of six Paralympic medalists conclude this inspirational biography, which highlights the power of sport to motivate and heal while demonstrating how the dedication of one pioneering doctor continues to mean a life-changing difference for many. A timeline, extensive bibliography, and index are included. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7--10. Author's agent: Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary. (Apr.)

Kirkus Review

Alexander chronicles how Jewish doctor Ludwig Guttmann became "the founding father of the Paralympic Games." In 1917, with World War I underway, Guttmann graduated from high school and became an orderly in Germany's National Emergency Services, where he met a paralyzed coal miner with a grim prognosis: "Dead in six weeks." For decades, paralyzed patients' futures remained bleak. In 1939, after courageously resisting the rising Nazi regime, Guttmann--by then a neurologist--escaped to England. In 1944 he established his Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where bedridden "incurables" languished. Guttmann, however, resolved to rescue them from "the human scrapheap," developing innovative treatments and encouraging self-sufficiency. Noting that playing such sports as wheelchair archery and basketball both "brought passion and fun back into patients' lives" and improved their health, he realized that public competitions would also show nondisabled people that patients were "more than their injuries." Through Guttmann's tireless advocacy, a 1948 archery competition on Stoke Mandeville's lawn evolved into the Paralympic Games, currently the world's third-largest sporting event. The author explores Guttmann's career in thorough medical and historical detail; diagrams and text boxes supplement discussions of everything from the nervous system to Nazi atrocities, enabling readers to fully appreciate his efforts. Alongside archival photographs, Drummond's color cartoon illustrations extend the straightforward text. Profiles of contemporary Paralympians provide an inspiring epilogue. Most photographed figures, including Guttmann, appear white; one contemporary athlete presents black. Informative, engaging, and important. (timeline, bibliography, notes, index) (Biography. 8-12) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

This inspiring biography recounts how Jewish, German-born Dr. Ludwig Guttmann revolutionized the treatment of soldiers with spinal injuries during WWII and founded the modern Paralympic Games. Trained as a neurologist in Germany, Guttmann was forced to flee to Oxford, England, with his family when Hitler rose to power. After four years, Guttmann was appointed the head of a spinal injury unit at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital near London. He thought spinal injury patients should be allowed to exercise in their wheelchairs and have the opportunity to learn useful job skills. In 1948, Guttmann started wheelchair sports competitions between the spinal injury patients at local hospitals--a competition that eventually evolved into the Paralympic Games. Of all his honors, Guttmann was most proud of "introducing sport into the rehabilitation of disabled people." The text, which is peppered with cartoon spot art, includes short biographies of notable Paralympic athletes, archival photos, source notes, a time line, bibliography, and index (not seen). This heartwarming biography will appeal to anyone who supports equal rights and disability justice.



Chapter 1 An Ailment Not to Be Treated In June 1944, Reg Townsend was digging a trench in the north of France when he heard an explosion. He shouted to his fellow soldiers to take cover in the six-foot-deep hole. But it was too late. Shrapnel rained from a second round of German mortar bombs. A nearby soldier was struck in the head. Reg was hit elsewhere: "I had the immediate sensation of floating in the air--most peculiar--but when I tried to move and found that I couldn't, I knew that I caught it in the spine."       Reg Townsend was rushed from the battlefield to the base hospital. Within days, he was flown back to his home country of England, where doctors informed him that he had paraplegia and would never walk again.       The oldest known description of paraplegia was found on an Egyptian scroll dating back to the time of the Pyramids, around 2700 BCE. The scroll contained detailed medical instructions for treating forty-eight illnesses. But spinal injury was classified as simply "an ailment not to be treated."       Many years later, around 200 CE, a Greek surgeon named Galen studied the injuries of gladiators who had fallen from their chariots, possibly the earliest type of vehicle accident.       He learned that injuries near the top of the spine were the most serious and often led to death. Damage lower down the spine affected breathing, movement of the arms and legs, and control of the bladder and bowel. Damage to the lowest section of the spine might affect only the legs and bladder.       Over time, doctors and scientists learned more about the functions of the spine. Yet little was being done to help patients with spinal cord damage. Most died soon after their injury. In the 1940s, paraplegia was still considered by most "an ailment not to be treated."       Reg Townsend was cast in white plaster from neck to ankles. He spent his days flat on his back in a hospital bed, hidden away from other patients, cut off from the world. Doctors had no hope for his recovery. They gave Reg, and others like him, an unfortunate nickname: "incurables."       Could any doctor make a difference to these patients? Chapter 2 Headstrong As a young boy, Ludwig Guttmann lived in a German mining town called Königshütte, near the border of what is now Poland. His father, Bernhard, ran a distillery business, while his mother, Dorothea, stayed busy raising Ludwig and his three younger sisters. Both of Ludwig's grandfathers owned farms. During the summers, Ludwig spent long days in the fields helping with the corn harvest.       When it came to school, Ludwig was less interested in hard work. He liked to do things his own way. So he put off homework and projects until the end of each semester and then hurried to catch up and complete his assignments. He did not want to fail and repeat the dull classes! There were a few exceptions. Ludwig enjoyed learning about history. He liked singing with the school choir. Most of all, Ludwig was interested in sports. Running and soccer were his favorites. He was one of the shortest in his class, but he was fast. He outraced opponents. He flew across finish lines. Ludwig loved to win and made many friends among his teammates.       As a young Jewish boy, Ludwig faced other types of rivalries at school. One day at recess, a classmate of Ludwig's insulted another boy, calling him "a damned Jew." Ludwig stood up for his friend. He confronted the bully. When Ludwig demanded an explanation for the name calling, the boy only yanked on Ludwig's tie, a special gift from his mother. A fistfight broke out. Before a teacher could stop the scuffle, the bell rang and the boys trudged back to class. Ludwig was let off with a warning. But the other boy received detention for the name calling. He had to apologize to both Ludwig and his Jewish classmate.       Little did Ludwig know, this type of anti-Semitic behavior--prejudice or aggression toward Jewish people--would become more frequent in Germany, and more dangerous, in the coming years. Excerpted from A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports by Lori Alexander All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.