Rome 1960 was the first Paralympic Games. The Games were staged for a week in late September 1960, with Australia one of only twenty-one nations competing. Spinal cord injuries were the only impairment group eligible to compete. Pope John XXIII attended and, praised the athletes having “shown what an energetic soul can achieve, in spite of apparently insurmountable obstacles imposed on the body”. Yet the Games were viewed by team management as less of a competitive display, and more as a means of rehabilitation and medical research.
While undoubtedly a significant step forward in the world of disability sport, the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games encountered more than a few teething problems – in particular transport and accessibility to accommodation. Australian athletes were housed in units built on stilts, with no lifts and the only access via two sets of stairs. With athletes being wheelchair-bound, this created obvious problems. Frank Ponta recalls an episode: after the post-games celebration, he was mistaken by Italian Army officials for an American and was returned to the American living quarters. Overall, however, Australian athletes remember relishing the experience, and making the most of the occasion.
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