Josie Pearson – Gold Medal Profile

Labour Party

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.”

Britain’s Paralympic Hopefuls – Rachel Morris

Labour Party

This week’s post in the series on women Olympians features Rachel Morris. Rachel entered the history books at the Beijing Paralympics when she became Britain’s first ever handcyclist to enter the competition.  Not only did she take home the gold, but she then went on to become the only British handcyclist to be crowned double World Champion.

Rachel was born in Guildford, Surrey, and grew up in Farnham where she attended St. Peters School. She demonstrated a keen interest in sport and also helped disabled members of the local community as a Girl Guide. She completed a Duke of Edinburgh programme with the Royal Yachting Association at Frensham Ponds Sailing Club, which introduced her to sailing, a sport in which she reached international level.

On Rachel’s 17th birthday in April 1996 she suffered an ankle injury that triggered the onset of an extremely rare and painful illness, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or CRPS. This led to her left leg being amputated above the knee in January 2003 and a few years later, the disease had spread to her right leg, forcing a second amputation.

But Rachel’s interest in sport continued when she bought a handcycle attachment for her wheelchair. She quickly reached a level that where she was competing in 2007 in Barcelona and became the double World Champion, winning both the Time Trial and Road Race competition.  It was this that led to her receiving formal Olympic funding, and she went on to win gold in Beijing 2008.

Rachel is looking to defend her title this summer in London and all her supporters on her home turf will be hoping the same.

Britain’s Paralympic Hopefuls – Eleanor Simmonds

Labour Party

It seems wrong to call Eleanor Simmonds a hopeful given everything she has achieved already; having already won two gold medals in swimming at the Beijing Paralympics when only 13 years old.

Eleanor began swimming at age four and entered her first competition just four years later. After watching the 2004 Paralympic Games on television, Eleanor was inspired to take her sport to an elite level and stepped up her training with the aim of qualifying for Beijing 2008.

She achieved this and, competing in S6 disability category, Eleanor swam in the 50 m, 100 m and 400 m freestyle, 50 m butterfly, and 200 m individual medley.  Despite Beijing being her first games and, at 13, being the youngest athlete in the competition, she went on to win gold in both the 100 m freestyle and 400 m freestyle.

This incredible achievement gained wide recognition and in 2008 Eleanor was awarded the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year.  Not only that, but a year later she made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). At 14 she was the youngest person to have ever received this honour.

Eleanor has not rested much since winning in Beijing and has gone on to take ten gold medals at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Swimming World Championships in 2009 and 2010, five golds at the IPC European Championships, and a gold at the Paralympic world cup

Eleanor might be one of Britain’s best hopes winning, not just one, but a number of gold medals at this summer’s games.  She says that she hates to lose, but looking at her career, you don’t imagine it’s much of a problem for her.