Born Isabel Barr in Glasgow, Isabel was raised in Renfrewshire. As a young girl she swam competitively but in her late teens her spinal cord was damaged by a virus and she lost the use of her limbs. In 1975, she joined the Port Glasgow Otters Swimming Club as part of her rehabilitation programme and was eventually drawn to the attention of Britain’s paraplegic swimming team. As with so many other great Otters swimmers she was hugely influenced by coach Peter Stanton.
Isabel made her Paralympic debut in Arnhem in the Netherlands in 1980 and went on to compete at seven Games, in events as diverse as swimming, discus and shooting. In Arnhem she won three gold medals and a silver medal in the pool. It was common at one time for the top disabled athletes to compete across sports but now athletes specialise in the same way as their mainstream colleagues.
At the Paralympic Games in 1984 at Stoke Mandeville she won 9 medals across her three selected sports, a remarkable achievement for a spinal injured athlete from one of the classes for the most severely physically disabled Paralympians. Preparing for training and competition for somebody like Isabel with such severe mobility difficulties was a major challenge at a time when swimming pool access was nothing like it is today. She was a trailblazer for women and athletes with a severe physical disability.
Due to health challenges she dropped out of competitive swimming and in 1988 was selected for the Seoul Paralympics in athletics and shooting. Four medals were won by Isabel for Team GB and a pattern was set that took this outstanding competitor through to the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, scene of possibly her finest hour. It is for her skill in air-pistol shooting she is best remembered. In this event she won three Paralympic gold medals (1996, 2000 and 2004) and a bronze (1988), together with World gold (1990 and 2002) and silver medals (1994 and 1998). She set a new world-record score in Sydney in 2000.
Isabel Newstead MBE sadly passed away in 2007 following illness but had she remained in good health she would have been similarly competitive in Beijing. Scotland has produced many fine disabled sportsmen and women and many have gone on to be successful Paralympians. Wheelchair sport is the longest established and the most competitive in terms of global appeal and numbers involved. Isabel was at the top for over two decades and was a great ambassador for Scotland. She was an outstanding role model and an inspiration to up and coming athletes and players across sports. Isabel was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honour’s list of 2001. Isabel was the first high performance disabled athlete to be inducted into the Scottish hall of Fame. Isabel died in Harlow (Essex) in 2007.