The Indefatigable Jack Dearlove

Jack Dearlove at Marlow Regatta.

HTBS’s Tim Koch writes about the unknown hero, Jack Dearlove:

The 2012 Paralympic Game will undoubtedly be a great success and will certainly be remembered as a milestone in changing attitudes to disability. The widespread acceptance of Paralympians as ‘real’ athletes has happened so quickly that one does not have to go too far back for examples from a time when things were very different. An article by Neil Tweedie in the Daily Telegraph of 4 July does go far back, sixty four years in fact, but is still well worth reading. It tells the full story of a man who earned a small place in the history of rowing by coxing the British eight that won silver at the 1948 London Olympics. That man was called Jack Dearlove and he had one leg. Today the media and the Olympic public relations machine would be keen to extract maximum publicity from this ‘human interest’ story. Two decades ago things were very different.

Until the age of ten, Jack Dearlove was a gifted, sports mad youngster. However, in 1922 he was involved in an accident with a lorry which resulted in the amputation of his right leg.

Determined not to stay in a wheelchair and unable to get on with an artificial limb, Jack taught himself to walk on crutches. Tweedie quotes Jack’s son, Richard:

His parents were from tough no-nonsense backgrounds who had made their way in the world and Dad had been brought up in a similar way… He became amazingly agile and developed the ability to lead a pretty normal life. He was a good tennis player, brilliant swimmer and could water ski. He could drive too. And if the family went on a five mile walk, he was there…

Jack’s other son, John, says that as a child he never thought of his Father as disabled.

Jack Dearlove and the 1948 Olympic Eight. Won Silver.

Jack coxed for Thames Rowing Club and in 1948, at the age of 37 and with 20 years of rowing behind him, he was chosen to cox the British Olympic eight. His delight with what would undoubtedly be the pinnacle of his sporting career was  considerably reduced when he was informed that it would not be ‘right’ for a disabled man to take part in the parade of athletes at the official opening of the Games by the King at Wembley. He had to watch from the stands with the other 85,000 spectators so as not to cause ‘embarrassment’.

Jack was from a generation that did not expect compensation or pity for injury or stress or hurt feelings. He and his contemporaries accepted what life threw at them and made the best of it. His children did not know of his disgraceful exclusion from his rightful place among his fellow sportsmen until after his death in 1967. Son John says ‘He was utterly devoid of self-pity’.

Jack Dearlove and the 1950 Empire Games Crew. Won Bronze.

I do not suppose that Jack ever thought of himself as a pioneer. Had he ever considered it, he probably regarded himself simply as an athlete who wanted to compete making full use of whatever abilities he had. Today, the Paralympic Games exists precisely so that this may happen. We have come a long way since Jack Dearlove was relegated to the stands.

Pictures © John Dearlove

See also 6 September, 2012

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