Rio Paralympics 2016: Spotlight on Team GB
- AuthorBryan Colley
Kicking off in an explosive opening ceremony, the Rio Paralympics 2016 are officially upon us. Defying expectations, the Maracanã Stadium saw thousands of performers come together to begin the After Party in style; a two-hour procession of competing countries executed in a show-stopping fashion.
If you missed the ceremony – you may want to watch the best bits. Attempting to explain how wheelchair athlete Aaron Fotheringham propelled himself up a 6-storey high ramp and through a hoop, back flipping in mid air before making a landing would sound crazy. And it is. As fireworks flew and a dazzled audience gawped in disbelief, we were reminded of the true meaning of the Paralympics: passion is everything.
Over the next two weeks, we will witness a collection of competitors who overcame the worst to become the best. Winning a total of 120 medals at the London 2012 Paralympics, Team GB return to the competition in hope of securing the top spot in the medal table. In light of this, we’ve turned the spotlight to Team GB to get to know our squad a little better. Below is a small selection of inspiring stories from the tournament.
From the young age of 12, Stefanie Reid had dreams of becoming a professional rugby player. Passionate about all sport and fitness, Stefanie led an active lifestyle, taking every opportunity to involve herself in athletic activities. However, in the summer before her 16th birthday, she was involved in a devastating boat accident. Stefanie had been messing around with her friends on a lake in Canada, skimming across the water on an inflatable ring attached to the boat.
After being flung off the ring and waiting to be picked up by the boat, there was a miscommunication between the driver and spotter, causing the boat to drive directly into Stefanie. Stefanie was left with horrific injuries, and while surgery was successful in healing those on her back, her foot had to be amputated. She could have given up. But Stefanie stayed strong, and her love for fitness drove her to carry on. While rugby was no longer an option, Stefanie began her journey to success in track and field, winning a bronze in the sprint in Beijing, 2008.
Now age 31, Stefanie is a double Paralympic medalist and five times world record holder. While the Paralympian excelled in track and field, she now focuses mostly on long jump after winning the silver medal in London, 2012.
Sammi has spent the last two years of her life training for the Rio Paralympics. A passionate wheelchair racer, Sammi came fifth at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and then went on to win three gold’s at the European Championships only a few weeks later. Prior to her accident, Sammi only enjoyed sport on a social level. But after being paralysed from a tragic accident on her family's farm, Sammi has stopped at nothing to succeed in her sport.
“My life changed forever in December 2010 when, aged 14, I was paralysed from the waist down after an accident on my family’s farm. My dad Neil, 52, was driving a forklift to clear snow and I decided it would be fun to jump into the shovel part. I thought he’d seen me, but he hadn’t and I was crushed by the beam, breaking my back. I can still remember my toes and legs tingling and cramping – then nothing.”
Teenage life was incredibly challenging for Sammi, as she watched her friends lead normal lives with able bodies. However, after seeing the wheelchair racers in the London Paralympics in 2012, she had her sights set on greatness. Sammi considers the accident a stepping-stone to an amazing career, and is more excited than ever to be competing in the Rio Paralympics 2016.
“Chair racing has played a huge part in my recovery. When I get to the start line in Rio, I’ll feel so grateful to have been given this opportunity.
Sean Highdale’s dreams to become a professional footballer were well on their way to becoming a reality when he was tipped for Liverpool’s youth academy and capped by the England Under 16’s team. Then, tragedy struck. At the young age of 17, Sean was involved in a high-speed traffic collision and was hurtled through the windscreen at 100mph.
Sean was the only survivor of the crash, escaping with a bleed in the brain, smashed kneecaps, a broken ankle, a ruptured kidney and a shattered disc in his neck. Doctors warned Sean that he might have to give up his hopes of becoming a footballer. But Sean did not turn his back on his dreams.
It was the call from former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard that pushed Sean to stay strong and not lose hope. “Steven phoned me up in hospital to tell me to come to Melwood training ground,” he explains. “I had lunch with him and he gave me some real words of encouragement. So did Jamie Carragher, who came to see me. It was a massive inspiration. Not once did I think of giving up.”
Now, age 25, Sean Highdale will be representing his country at the Rio Paralympics 2016 as part of the Cerebral Palsy football team, and he couldn’t be more excited. “Seeing all the lads and the quality that we have in this team, then we are only destined for good things.”
It’s this attitude that inspires us as a nation to persevere. As the Rio Paralympics unfold, we will be crossing our fingers not only for Team GB, but for each participant who has pushed past suffering to achieve greatness.
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