Ensconced in Roundhay Grammar School in Leeds, the diligent, athletic and always adventurous young Carruthers began to see with crystal clear clarity that there was little in his A level subjects that supplied his needs for life in the real world. It was the sixties and the centre of the real world for his generation was London. London was the music and fashion capital of the world: the Beatles and the England Soccer Team had conquered the world; now it was the turn of the young Carruthers. After several discussions about their different philosophies of education, it was agreed that the Headmaster should stay at Roundhay Grammar School, dispensing his particular educational philosophy, while the seventeen year old Carruthers should go elsewhere to develop his philosophy of life and learning.
Off to the capital he went, to drink fully from the cup of life that London has always appeared to offer the young. After much 'education' in the capital city he experienced one of the two most life-turning events which he was to had on the roads of England. The first was his meeting with Sheila, a student teacher hitch-hiking to London. Later they were married and spent their first year together planning their great journey. With Sheila's probationary teaching year successfully completed, they began their journey. Hitch-hiking through Europe they eventually arrived in Istanbul. From there they took local transport and followed the 'silk road' east. This was no pre-packaged, air-conditioned, 'four countries a week' tour, but one which required endurance to survive the journeys on local buses as and when they, and money, were available. Through Turkey, Iran, Iraq and into Pakistan and India they travelled and then on down through Thailand and into Indonesia; finally arriving in Darwin in northern Australia. Continuing their journey in the relative luxury of a camper van they purchased in Darwin, they drove the length of Australia to Perth in the west and then east to Melbourne and Sydney. Travelling up the east coast of Australia they became for a short while tin miners or rather tin scratchers, to help out an old friend. I am told that tin scratching is similar to panning for gold but without the excitement or such good working conditions! Alice Springs was the place they made their temporary home and there they enjoyed the Australian life-style of work and play. Play for Peter was rugby league which presented no threat to his amateur status, being so far from where such matters were discussed with unnecessary gravitas!
Home to England via New Zealand and the USA they completed their global journey of discovery: passports reluctantly put away, Peter and Sheila planned their new life in North Yorkshire. Little did they know, however, what lay ahead of them in what seemed to be their new low risk life-style. Travelling to work during the first week in his new role the young businessman, Peter was thinking only of the day ahead, when it became all too clear that he might not be able to avoid the car speeding across the centre of the road towards him. Alive but with a broken neck and paralysis, Peter emerged from the wreckage of his little Renault to begin a new life.
His love of sport had Peter taking a very critical look at the design and construction of the wheelchairs available to him. They were not really designed for speed and manoeuvrability and were too heavy because they were made of steel. So began Peter's career as a designer. He experimented, modified and introduced lightweight materials into the construction of racing wheelchairs. It all began on his kitchen table. That modest beginning has blossomed into 'Bromakin', the company that Peter and Sheila set up to design and manufacture specialist chairs for track and road racing, as well as chairs for basketball and rugby. If Peter charged his customers not only for their high performance wheelchairs but also for the advice he offers on wheelchair sport, then this side of his business would have a larger financial turnover than that of the manufacturing side of his business.
Never the spectator or theoretician, Peter began training in the chairs he modified and later built, not only to test them but more importantly to test himself. He moved to Loughborough to be near good training facilities and good competition. His commitment to wheelchair racing and the provision of the best equipment, from home and abroad, single handedly has placed the sport on the centre stage of the Paralympics Games. Peter was the first quadriplegic to compete and complete a marathon and since that day in 1984 he went on to complete 45 marathon races. His achievements on the track make the ambitions of other athletes look extremely limited when they train to race over such a small range of distances.
In the Seoul Paralympics of 1988, Peter won the Gold medal for the 100m. He also competed in the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona and set national records in three track events. Peter currently holds every national track record for the quadriplegic class, an achievement in itself but more so when we realise the great distances Peter had to travel to get the competition necessary to achieve these records; for example,
100m Toronto 200m Barcelona 400m Barcelona 800m Barcelona 1500m Melbourne 5000m Melbourne 10000m Cwmbran marathon BerlinDesigner, competitor and travel advisor to those who, like him, are brave enough to travel widely without an accompanying medical support team , Peter's contribution did not stop there. He became Chairman of the British Wheelchair Racing Association and cut through the politics which beleaguered even his sport, to achieve recognition and fair financial support for his fellow participants in wheelchair racing. Although no longer Chairman of the Wheelchair Racing Association, he commands enormous respect within the sport, not only because of his remarkable achievements, but also because of his integrity and his readiness to help all who seek him out. His is still the most influential voice in the sport in the UK.
He is also a good friend to the University having helped guide at least one PhD student to a successful completion during studies on the physiology of wheelchair athletes. Peter also helped us during our bid for the British Academy of Sport by being present during the many ministerial visits to campus.
Before us this morning we have a man who could happily look back on his achievements and truly say 'I made a difference'. However, Peter is not ready for life's sidelines, nor a free seat in any national stadium. He has returned to the wheelchair version of the sport at which he excelled as a young man, in both codes Union and League. Peter plays wheelchair rugby for the East Midlands Marauders. We can be sure that as he competes, his eyes are not only on the score board but they are also on how well his wheelchairs are standing up to the crash tackling which is an unofficial feature of this demanding sport.
Ever the leader and innovator, Peter is currently raising the profile of hand cycling as a sport for wheelchair athletes, not by mail shot nor by word of mouth, but as a competitor. Peter has already taken part in the national trials for this new sport with the aim of qualifying for the World Championships which will be held in the USA later this year.
Although we can easily assess his achievements in design and manufacture of specialist equipment for wheelchair sport, we can also list the records he holds, but what is more difficult to quantify is the influence he has had on the lives of wheelchair users, sports people and spectators alike. His inspiration has led so many to discover new and fulfilling lives as wheelchair sportsmen and women, and in doing so most have rediscovered their self-confidence and self-worth.
Therefore, Chancellor, I am proud to present to you and the University, Peter Carruthers MBE, Designer, businessman and above all Olympian for the degree of Master of Arts, honoris causa.
, July 1998.
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