History turns full circle at London 2012 Paralympic Games

Updated 10:14 AM EDT, Wed August 29, 2012

Story highlights

Paralympic movement was born in Stoke Mandeville, outside London, in 1948

2012 Games will be the biggest yet, with 4,200 competitors from 165 countries

In an echo of the first, post-World War II Games, injured veterans are among the athletes

They include a U.S. naval officer blinded in Afghanistan and a Briton who lost an arm in Iraq

(CNN) —  

In 1948, a hospital outside London witnessed the birth of the Paralympic movement, as a Jewish doctor who had fled Nazi Germany sought to change the lives of patients with spinal injuries – and inspire new hope in them through sport.

The first “Stoke Mandeville Games” were organized in 1948 to coincide with the London Olympics, the second to be held in Britain.

Named for the hospital in Buckinghamshire where Prof. Ludwig Guttmann’s pioneering spinal injuries unit was based, the competitors in those initial Games – 14 men and two women – took part in a wheelchair archery contest.

Many were military veterans injured on the battlefields of World War II.

Just a year later, six teams competed at Stoke Mandeville – with wheelchair netball, a forerunner of wheelchair basketball, being introduced – as sport became a central part of a rehabilitation process that had been revolutionized by Guttmann.

In 1956, a “statement of intent” was unveiled for the Games, which were by this time international, according to to the Mandeville Legacy website run by the local authority.

It read: “The aim of the Stoke Mandeville Games is to unite paralyzed men and women from all parts of the world in an international sports movement, and your spirit of true sportsmanship today will give hope and inspiration to thousands of paralyzed people.”

Four years later, inspired by Guttmann’s vision, the first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome in tandem with the Olympics.

And five decades on, some 4,280 Paralympians from 165 countries – the largest number ever – have returned to Britain to compete in what is now the premier international sporting event for those born with disabilities, or disabled by injury or illness.

In an echo of those first Stoke Mandeville Games, a number of those competing are military veterans, this time wounded in