VAL ROBERTSON could be described as the outstanding all-round wheelchair athlete of her generation.
She excelled in every sport she attempted, of which there were many, and she represented her country at the highest levels of international sport.
And, at the age of 69, in recognition of her achievements, Val has just become one of the first 20 inductees of the Scottish Disability Sport (SDS) Hall of Fame which was launched to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the national body.
For the Melrose resident, however, it was all about having fun, making friends and travelling to places that none of her peers could even imagine going to.
“I never thought of myself as a great sportsperson,” she told TheSouthern. “I was just enjoying what I was doing at the time and was thrilled that it gave me the opportunity to travel to places I would otherwise never have seen.”
Born in London in 1943, Val suffered a thrombosis on the spine when she was seven years old, which left her with complete paralysis of her lower limbs.
“I think it came as more of a blow to my parents than to me,” she recalled. “I can’t really remember feeling too upset at the time. I just accepted it.
“One of the first things I did when I was able to get out and about again was to go to my local swimming pool. I had always enjoyed swimming and it just took off from there. I started trying other sports as well and got to be as good as I could be. It was really quite exciting, especially when I began to travel.
“In those days, young women didn’t really travel that much and in some of the countries I visited, people with disabilities were still being kept in the background.”
Val became a true trail-blazer who excelled in everything she tried. At her first Paralympic Games, in Tokyo in 1964, she medalled in archery, athletics, swimming and fencing.
In 1968, she went to Israel, where she further improved her status as an international athlete with six gold medals. On her return she was awarded Disabled Sportsperson of the Year by the Sports Writers’ Association.
Val missed out on the Games in 1972 in Germany and headed off to Toronto in 1976, where she made her final Paralympic appearance, winning bronze for fencing.
Throughout the 70s and 80s she contributed to the development of the SDS Lawn Bowls programme as a member of the Lothian Disability Sport team. She met her husband John – Commonwealth Games triple bowls gold medallist for Scotland in Manchester – at the inaugural Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Perth, Australia, in 1962, and the couple moved from south of the border.
Val was a member of the Scottish Paraplegic Association, the voluntary organisation that led the early developments of international disability wheelchair sports in Scotland.
She became an outstanding wheelchair bowler.
She remains to this day the leading wheelchair female bowler ever to play in the SDS National Bowls Championships.
More recently, she has turned her attention to curling and is secretary of the Borders Wheelchair Curling Club and a member of the Roxburgh Sports Council.
The inaugural members of the SDS Hall of Fame were announced to a packed audience at the association’s AGM. The inductees were selected by a panel of four, led by Richard Brickley MBE.