Val Robertson (nee Forder) could be described as the outstanding all round wheelchair athlete of her generation. She excelled in every sport she attempted and there were many, and she represented her country at the highest levels of international sport. Val met her husband John – Commonwealth Games triple bowls gold medallist for Scotland in Manchester – at the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Perth Australia and moved from south of the border to Edinburgh. John and Val now live in Melrose.
Val was a member of the Scottish Paraplegic Association, the voluntary organisation that led the early developments of international disability wheelchair sports in Scotland. Val was a trail blazer who excelled in archery, athletics, swimming and fencing at Paralympic level. She remained in disability sport for many years and throughout the 70s and 80s she contributed to the development of the SDS Lawn Bowls programme as a member of the Lothian Disability Sport team.
Val’s first Paralympic Games were in Tokyo in 1964 where she medalled in archery, athletics, swimming and fencing. In swimming she won gold and two silvers, in archery she won silver, in athletics and fencing she won bronze medals. An incredible all round performance demonstrating the versatility and skills of this great athlete.
When Val returned from Tokyo she was awarded Disabled Sportsperson of the Year by the Sports Writers Association.
In 1968 she headed to the Games in Israel where she further improved her status as an international athlete with six gold medals, three in swimming, two in athletics and one in fencing for Team foil. One of her athletics gold medals was for pentathlon demonstrating she was world class in both track and field. In the 60s the Games involved large number of spinal injured wheelchair athletes and participants were expected to be multi-sport performers and nobody fitted that category better than Val.
Val missed out on the Games in 1972 in Germany and headed off to Toronto in 1976 where she competed in her final Games, winning bronze for fencing. Around this time she became very involved in lawn bowls and with her colleagues at the Thistle Foundation developed ways in which wheelchair users could access greens more easily. The ramp developed at the Thistle Foundation features in the 70 s pioneering film – produced by the Disabled Living Foundation – entitled “Not Just a Spectator” features Val delivering a bowl from the innovative ramp. Ramps designed on the Thistle spec have been used to assist individuals with severe mobility difficulties to enjoy bowls for the past 40 years. Val became an outstanding wheelchair bowler who excelled within the wheelchair sports movement. She remains to this day the leading wheelchair female bowler ever to play in the SDS National Bowls Championships and has now turned her attention to wheelchair curling in her leisure time.
The origins of disability sport in Scotland centre in Edinburgh and around Cargil Terrace the office base of the Scottish Paraplegic Association. The late AR Mitchell and SDS Vice President Jean Stone served that organisation for many years and helped establish Scotland as a world force in disability sport. Many great SPA members went on to be international performance athletes and the arrival of Val in Scotland greatly enhanced the Scottish squad. The legacy of the Robertson family is the strong disability bowls success Scotland now enjoys at international level.