In my last blog, I talked about how my first defeat gave me extra motivation to bounce back and win more medals. While this has definitely given me extra motivation, my determination to succeed goes back to my childhood. Growing up, I went to mainstream schools and on the whole they were very inclusive. The only exception to that was PE, as there wasn’t always the knowledge about how to integrate me into the lessons. But for me, if you say I can’t do something then I really want to do it!
When I was 12 I met other disabled people for the first time, as one of my senior school PE teachers introduced me to local wheelchair basketball coach. I played wheelchair basketball for six years and I was the only girl – but once I’d tried one sport, it opened up possibilities for several different sports, including wheelchair rugby and tennis.
Once the school realised my ability they started to work out how to include me in the different lessons – for example with discus and shotput, the only difference is that I’m sat down!
From there, I kept proving people wrong. I won my first competition, the Sainsbury’s school games in 2008 against girls who had been competing for years. I was asked to join the GB team and was invited onto the world class performance programme after just a year of competing. It meant I trained every day but wouldn’t go to any of the championships. Then by chance, there was a spare space at the World Championships in New Zealand – and like any other 18 year old I jumped at the chance to spend several weeks in New Zealand without my parents!
What the selectors didn’t expect was that I’d win gold – and from there I was treated as an elite athlete, receiving everything from nutrition plans to scheduling in warm weather training.
The next step was London 2012. I was only 18 so had no pressure to win – except from myself of course! I would have been stupid to say no to the chance of competing at a home Games. As funny as it sounds, it was incredible to walk into the athletes’ village and see so many disabled people, as I’d been brought up in an able-bodied world.
I enjoyed every minute of London. The only time I got slightly nervous was before my first heat. I was on the warm up track and I could hear lots of noise. I kept looking at my coach and he asked what was up. When I told him, he said ‘Oh that’s just the stadium!’ I couldn’t believe I could hear the noise of the stadium from the warm up track and that so many people were there to support us.
Looking forward to Rio, I guess that’s one of the big question marks – will we get a crowd, will the passion be there and will the people there see us as elite athletes, or just an aftershow to the Olympics? I’m looking forward to the Games though and I’m confident that while Rio will be completely different to London, it will be another special event.