Continuing with my profiles of those women who achieved gold medals at the Olympics and Paralympics this week, I am today looking at Josie Pearson, who won gold in the combined F51/52/53 discus. She will now have her image on a stamp issued by the Royal Mail, and has golden post box in her home town of Hay-on-Wye in her honour.
Josie triumped in spectacular fashion with a third-round throw of 6.58 metres for 1,122 points, with her nearest rival, Ireland’s Catherine O’Neill, finished a distant 242 points behind. But it had been a long and difficult journey to get there.
Josie was seriously injured in 2003 when she was a passenger in a car that was involved in a head-on collision on a blind bend in Wales. The driver, her boyfriend Daniel Evans, was killed while Pearson, who had been a promising show jumper before the accident, had to adjust to life in a wheelchair after being left paralysed from the chest down.
But a chance meeting in hospital with Alan Ash, a Great Britain wheelchair rugby player, rekindled her sporting ambition.
Pearson was persuaded to take up wheelchair rugby herself and she showed such a talent for the sport that she was selected as the sole female competitor in the British team at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008.
The lure of individual competition proved too strong to resist, however, and a year later Pearson switched to athletics, initially as a wheelchair racer, and was selected for last year’s World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand. Competing in the T52 classification, she was fifth in both the 100 and 800 metres.
To improve her chances of being selected for the Paralympics, she added throwing to her to athletic repertoire 18 months ago with a view to competing in London in both track and field events.
But her track hopes were ended earlier this year when she was diagnosed with a cyst on her spine and ordered by doctors to stop racing. She responded to the setback by going to top of the world discus rankings, ensuring her Paralympic selection. She also competed in the club throw last Saturday, finishing fifth.
Her gold medal is another feather in the cap of her personal coach, Peter Eriksson, who is also in charge of the UK Athletics Paralympic programme. On Thursday evening, another of Eriksson’s charges, wheelchair sprinter Hannah Cockroft, won her second gold of the Games in the T34 200m.
Pearson said: “I can’t quite put into words how I’m feeling at the moment. I am absolutely ecstatic.
“In training I was consistently throwing over the world record so I knew it was a definite possibility that I could do it. To get that first throw and break the world record was such a relief. I was able to relax and then my next two throws were even better. I think I thrive on pressure.
“I have always been very determined and I knew I wanted to be Paralympic champion. When you hear that the Games are going to be in your home country that’s such an incentive to be the best at what you do.
“I was inspired by watching Athens a year after my accident. At that point we didn’t know London was hosting the Games, but that inspired me to get back into sport and to be the best that I can be.
“I can’t wait to see that golden postbox and my stamp.”