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Friday, 6 July 2012

Lyme’s Paralympic Gold

In the 1984 Paralympic Games in New York, Lyme Regis resident Diane Wiscombe won a gold medal. Her magnificent achievement is the subject of a new exhibition ‘Lyme’s Paralympic Gold’ at Lyme Regis Museum which opens on Thursday 12 July. Di Wiscombe, who died earlier this year, was the daughter of Muriel and Tony Wiscombe of a well-known local family. Her father died two years ago.

Di Wiscombe, born in 1965, was one of twins born prematurely and was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. The disability first affected her walking but, later in life, movement of her arms and hands became more difficult. She attended Saint Michael’s Infant and Junior Schools between 1970 and 1976 and then became a weekly boarder at Princess Margaret School, Taunton, a school for children with physical disabilities.

In 1981 Di moved as a full-time boarder to the prestigious National Star Centre at Cheltenham. Her intention was to return to Lyme and run the office of the family business, A. and F. Wiscombe, a long-established Lyme building company, but her life changed when she met Ken Black, swimming coach at the Star Centre. Recognising Di’s potential he entered her in local and regional swimming galas and soon she was competing in major competitions.

Convinced that she could win medals at the highest level, Di stayed in Cheltenham until 1985 to continue her punishing training schedule. The haul of medals grew larger and she began to compete internationally. Di was picked for the British Paralympic team for both swimming and boccia, a form of bowls played with small, sand-filled leather balls.

The 1984 Games in New York were the first Paralympic Games to be held in the same country as the summer Olympic Games. The opening ceremony was presided over by President Ronald Reagan whom Di met at the ceremony.

It proved to be a triumphant Games for the British contingent who won 331 medals and came second in the medal table. Di won two medals: a Gold for the 25 metres freestyle swimming, where she set a new world record, and a Silver medal for women’s individual boccia.

Di returned to Lyme in 1984. She needed to maintain her schedule and was helped by the Royal Marines at Lympstone, who pushed her to her full potential. Di’s mother Muriel also became part of the training team.

In 1988 Di was picked for both the swimming and boccia teams and travelled to Seoul, Korea, without her family. The British team came third behind the USA and West Germany with 183 medals. Di won a Silver medal for boccia.

In 1991 Di moved from the family home to a bungalow in Jericho, Lyme, where with support she was able to lead an independent life. She worked on her computer, travelled and enjoyed shopping trips and concerts.

In 2011 Di took on the challenge of driving a specially adapted car which would enable her to drive free of her wheelchair. Sadly, Di died before she had a chance achieve this.

‘Lyme’s Paralympic Gold’ exhibition, curated by Ken Gollop, will run from Thursday 12 July until the end of September.

Everyone is welcome to the museum free of charge on the opening day of the exhibition, which is also the day of the Olympic Torch procession through Lyme Regis. The museum is open every day: from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, and 11am to 5pm on Sundays. Entrance ticket for a year is £3.95 for adults, £3.45 for seniors; children and students free.

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