The head of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) hailed Stephen Hawking as an “extraordinary man” who inspired disabled people worldwide following the renowned British scientist’s death on Wednesday.
Hawking developed a form of motor neurone disease in his early 20s that eventually left him confined to a wheelchair, almost completely paralysed and unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser.
But he defied predictions that he would only live for a few years and his work unlocking the secrets of the Universe, and best-selling book A Brief History of Time, made him a household name.
Hawking opened the London Paralympics in 2012.
In a statement from Pyeongchang, where the Winter Paralympics are currently under way, IPC president Andrew Parsons hailed him as “an extraordinary man and a pioneer for all people with an impairment around the world.”
“He embodied the word ability more than anyone.”
He added that in the Paralympic movement, “we always say that Para [disabled] athletes see challenges as opportunities to do things differently.”
“Although not a Para athlete, Hawking did just that, finding innovative solutions to overcome his disability and continue his ground breaking work as a world-leading physicist.”
Parsons also thanked Hawking for his “truly magical” remarks at the London 2012 opening.
During a spectacular ceremony to mark the start of the Games, the physicist said the Paralympics were “all about transforming our perception of the world”.
“We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit,” he said at the time.
“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see. Be curious,” he added.
Hawking died peacefully at his home in the British university city of Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning. He was 76.