From Nazi Germany to The London Marathon

Acton man will be running for his great grandfather


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Ben Gittins running for WheelPower

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A local man who will be running the London Marathon next week has a bit more of a special connection with it than most.

Ben Gittins, a 24-year-old Durham University graduate, is the great-grandson of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the Jewish refugee and pioneering neurologist whose rehabilitation work with spinal injury patients at Stoke Mandeville hospital gave birth to the disabled sports movement and led directly to the modern Paralympic Games.

Ben had known of how Guttmann and family, including his six-year-old daughter Eva, had fled from Nazi Germany in 1939.

Ben says: " I know they were helped by a government scheme because my great-grandfather was such a high profile scientist and neurosurgeon in Germany."

It was only when they were settled in England that Guttmann began to work with spinal injury patients, "because at that time, no one else wanted to do it". Guttmann believed sport was essential to his patients' rehabilitation, building physical strength and self-respect.

A recent convert to running, Gittins vowed then to train for the London Marathon and raise money for the disabled sports charity, WheelPower, which counts his maternal grandmother, Eva Loeffler, Guttmann's daughter, as one of its vice-presidents.

"I always knew my great-grandfather had a lot to do with the Paralympics as a concept," says Gittins. "But I just didn't realise how much until the last few years and all the attention on him during London 2012.''

Gittins bought tickets for the Games himself, but he also had ‘inside' access via ‘Granny Eva' who was made honorary mayor of the Paralympic Athletes' Village.

"It was being there so much which inspired me to raise money for WheelPower," he says. "I've never felt such a strong affiliation to any charity. I knew about WheelPower from granny and the family connection with Stoke Mandeville, but the Games made it real for me.''

Ben left University last summer and is now back at home in Acton working as a medical receptionist in Ealing to save money for a gap-year trip to Costa Rica this summer.

In the meantime, he's up to 19 miles in training and aims to finish the 26.2 miles on 13 April in under four hours. "The knees seem to working ok," he says. "I'll be happy with anything under four hours."

He's also raised £1,450 of his £2,000 fundraising target for the charity, a family cause he's got to know and understand much better in recent months.

"I've been going to Stoke Mandeville myself for children's activity days," he says. "It's a really great thing to see. But the volunteers tell me they're facing a lot of funding cuts from the government, so they need support now more than ever.

"I never knew my great-grandfather," he adds, "but when I hear my mum and grandmother talking about him, they have such fond memories, regardless of the work he did for disabled sport.

"He was obviously a very, very nice man, and did a lot of good things, so if I can do anything to help his cause, I will feel very happy."

Read more of Ben's story here

The London Marathon takes place on Sunday 13th April

5th April 2014