WE COULD be looking at some future Paralympians,” three-time gold medallist Peter Hull tells the wheelchair basketball team of a Winchester school.

The group of pupils from Kings’ School look shy but excited. They are a bit in awe of their visitor after looking him up on Google.

Despite being born with no legs and arms ending at the elbow, Peter won three gold medals for swimming at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992 – all in world record times – raced in 12 marathons, including six London Marathons, and has done a tandem charity skydive.

In 1991, he was made an MBE for services to disability sport.

His image has featured on giant posters for the London Marathon and artist Mark Quinn made a statue of him in white marble.

Peter continues to inspire as he visits sports clubs and schools in his role as disability sports development officer for Hampshire County Council.

Despite having his own Wikipedia page – compiled by an old school friend – Peter is modest about his achievements. He was named Man of the Year in 1985 along with Terry Waite and Simon Weston.

Asked if he was a hero, the council employee said: “I’m just Pete.”

Back in the gym, a wheelchair basketball training session is about to begin. The school has spare wheelchairs so able-bodied pupils can play. Since the London Paralymics there has been a surge of interest.

Peter, 47, said: “They don’t see wheelchairs as a symbol of disability but as a piece of sports equipment like a bike or a set of running shoes. They want to have a go.”

Kings’ is one of four schools in Hampshire which integrates severely physically disabled children into mainstream classes.

Peter tells the pupils he took up swimming as a child to increase his upper body strength. He won his first gala at the age of ten.

His parents encouraged him to be as independent as possible from an early age and find his own way of doing things.

And consequently with basically two elbows, he uses a wheelchair plus sticks to get about, drives a Honda Civic Coupe with modifications and lives on his own in a bungalow in Southampton.

In 1984, aged 19, he joined the national Paralympics squad. His intensive training regime included getting up at 4.30am and swimming for two hours before work.

He said: “We didn’t get sponsorship then. I had to fund myself.

“When I was competing in the Paralympics it didn’t have the profile it does now. Now it is on a par with the Olympics. It has got the respect it deserves.”

Peter tells the students his “recipe for success” in sport and life in general.

“Firstly, hard work – nobody gives you gold medals or good exam results. You have to work for them.

“Second, support – getting up at 4.30am in the freezing cold to train was the last thing I wanted to do. But my coach also got up at 4.30am and my mum was always there with a cold flannel when I didn’t want to get out of bed!

“Lastly, what I call the X-factor. The indefinable quality that puts you ahead of the competition – makes you want to work hard and make sacrifices.” Winning three gold medals at Barcelona, made all the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile, he says. Since retiring from swimming 16 years ago, he visits a gym to keep fit and plans to start playing wheelchair rugby.

His philosophy is to focus on ability and not disability. It has served him well in life and in his sporting career. There are no handles on his wheelchair, so he can’t be pushed.

“I don’t have legs, so I can’t run a marathon but my arms work. I have upper body strength which I use to the maximum”, said Peter who describes himself as “fiercely independent.” He says this can annoy his girlfriend who lives in Swansea.

“I fully believe anyone can achieve anything in life, given the right support – and that can be physical, mental or emotional.

“If I could get rid of the word ‘disability’ I would.

I think it is a negative word. If you disable something, you stop it from working.

“I see disability as difference. Everybody is different – different colour skin, hair and eyes. It is just my difference is more obvious than most and I do things differently.”

“Instead of walking on two legs, I move around on four wheels.”

In the same way, disability sport is “sport done differently,” he says.

Part of his job involves visiting sports centres and school governing bodies to advise them how to adapt buildings and PE lessons to make them inclusive.

Peter admits he would like to do himself out of a job.

He said: “There are barriers to participation I am trying to break those down. It is not going to happen in my lifetime.

“Come the revolution, all will be accessible.” With that parting shot, he grins and races off in his wheelchair to organise a talent camp.