As a 6th grader living in San Diego, CA, there was quite a buzz about the 1984 Summer Olympics, scheduled in nearby Los Angeles. Such excitement as we crowded along a sidewalk to see the torch relay go by! I still remember the special unit our teacher introduced, covering the history of the Games, from the Ancient Greeks to the meaning behind the rings on today’s Olympic flag. Fast forward many years to a children’s book author (me!) looking for a new topic to share with young readers. As mom to a child with physical limitations, our family loved watching the Paralympics. How did they come to be? After a bit of research, I discovered the fascinating story of a doctor who changed the standard of care for people with spinal injuries, eventually founding the Paralympic Games.
Did you know?
- Ludwig Guttmann was a Jewish neurosurgeon who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 to continue his work with injured soldiers in England.
- After WWI, nearly 80% of patients with a fractured spine died from bladder infections or bedsore infections caused by their full body casts.
- Other doctors called Ludwig’s patients “incurables” until he introduced an entirely new treatment plan, including the removal of casts, movement in wheelchairs, and sports! Only 11% of Ludwig’s patients died from their spinal injury.
- In 1948, Ludwig coordinated a wheelchair archery competition between 16 service men and women. It took place on the front lawn of the Stoke Mandeville hospital. A few dozen family members watched.
- When Ludwig wanted to expand the competition, people laughed. They said wheelchair sports were ridiculous and no one would watch. But that didn’t stop Ludwig.
- In 2016, more than 4000 athletes competed in the Paralympic Games in Rio. The Games broke viewership records with a global television audience of more than four billion people!
A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports
Author: Lori Alexander
Illustrator: Allan Drummond
Published: April 7th, 2020 by Houghton Mifflin
Summary: 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.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
This Common Core and Next Gen Science Standards-aligned teacher’s guide includes discussion questions, activities about the nervous system, and a writing exercise encouraging students to support a social justice claim.
About the Author: Lori Alexander loves to read and write! She has written picture books like BACKHOE JOE (Harper) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic). Her first non-fiction chapter book, ALL IN A DROP (HMH) received a Sibert Honor Award. Her new book, A SPORTING CHANCE (HMH), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Kirkus “Best Books of 2020.” Lori resides in sunny Tucson, Arizona, with her scientist husband and two book loving kids. She runs when it’s cool and swims when it’s hot. Then she gets back to reading and writing. Visit Lori at www.lorialexanderbooks.com or on Twitter @LoriJAlexander or Instagram @lorialexanderbooks
Thank you, Lori, for sharing your inspiration, book, and guide!