The Paralympic Games begin on Wednesday, giving our Jen Offord the perfect excuse to tip her hat to some of the top women who have made history there.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water (put the telly back on): soz guys, the sports JUST WONT STOP. Well, I mean they will if the Rio 2016 organisers have anything to say about it, having spunked all their cash on a hunt for Ryan Lochte’s passport, but look, let’s focus on the positives here – MORE SPORT!
Yes, the Paralympic Games are upon us, and I ask you to rejoice once more as we pay tribute to some bona fide legends.
Archery – Danielle Brown
Team GB might not have much to boast about in terms of Olympic achievements in archery, but fortunately our Paralympic team are representing in that ancient British tradition of firing spikes at stuff (as it was pointed out to me by a reader of last month’s Olympic legends series).
Twenty-eight-year-old Danielle Brown is all over it, bringing home the golden bacon at both the Beijing and London games and a Commonwealth medal in 2010. She’s also had a fair old bit of success in able-bodied competitions, including the 2013 UK National Series – which she won.
Athletics – Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
A woman who doesn’t need much introduction, for us Brits Tanni Grey-Thompson is pretty much the First Lady of the Paralympics. In a sporting career that spanned five Games, TGT put away 11 Paralympic gold medals and a further five silver and bronze medals in wheelchair racing.
She also won the London Marathon six times, which is, y’know, alright. Oh and she broke 30 track records in her career. TGT continues to boss it in the world of sport as a vocal and influential advocate of women’s sports as well as disability sports. She’s kind of a big deal.
Cycling – Dame Sarah Storey
You couldn’t really have a ‘Who’s Who of the Paralympics’ without tipping your hat to Dame Sarah Storey and her 22 Paralympic medals. Give a shit, Michael Phelps – this is in the pool AND on a bike. She’s Great Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian.
Having been forced out of the swimming pool thanks to persistent ear infections, she decided to get on her bike and win a shedload more medals, including some for able-bodied national and world events to add to her Paralympic haul. And she’s back in Rio this year to, let’s face it, probably get loads more.
Sitting Volleyball – Martine Wright
Londoner Martine Wright’s path onto GB’s 2012 sitting volleyball team is one of almost immeasurable irony. On 6 July 2005, Wright was out with friends celebrating London winning its bid to host the 2012 Games. Less than 24 hours later, London was reeling from its worst ever terrorist attack.
The 7 July bombings killed 52 people. Of the 784 non-fatally injured, Wright was one, losing both her legs above the knee after ending up on the same carriage as suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer at Aldgate East that morning.
It’s hard to find the words to express the admiration one feels for Wright, who took up sitting volleyball after the bombings because she felt she needed a new challenge. She said of the circumstances that led her to compete in the 2012 Paralympics: “I’m doing something that is absolutely amazing, that I would never ever have done, as a result of going through the most traumatic day of my life and nearly dying, and thank God I didn’t die.”
Swimming – Trischa Zorn
Now a teacher, Trischa Zorn of Team US is the most successful athlete in the history of the Paralympic Games. She’s got so many medals, it’s actually a bit awkward – almost double the amount of the second most successful athlete. Admittedly, as a swimmer the odds are in her favour, but still, 41 gold medals (and nine silver, and, er, five bronze) are not to be sniffed at.
Wheelchair Basketball – Marijke Ruiter
Marijke Ruiter will seem an odd choice for wheelchair basketball legend, given that she’s really famous for swimming. I mean, she has 10 gold medals across two Paralympic Games for swimming.
But having already achieved so much in that sport in the 1972 and 1976 games, the Dutchwoman came back 12 years later in 1988 as a wheelchair basketball player to help the Netherlands bag a bronze in Seoul. Because there’s an obvious correlation between the two*. Talk about multitalented.
Wheelchair Tennis – Esther Vergeer
As a freelance writer who’s dedicated much of her adulthood to ‘just staying for one more’ it’s hard not to feel inadequate when confronted with an individual just a year older than yourself with seven gold medals. And, er *coughs* 42 Grand Slam victories across singles and doubles tournaments.
Now retired, Esther Vergeer ended her career on a winning streak of 470 matches. I’ll put that in context for you: world No 2 Andy Murray’s just ended a career-best streak of 22. Still, I have a year to catch up…
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Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen