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REid's journey to a Paralympic star

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Stef Reid

3 May 2013

Stef Reid’s aspirations of becoming an international rugby player came to end when she was involved in a boating accident shortly before her 16th birthday. 12 years on, Reid has become one of the global stars in Paralympic athletics, winning a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games before winning long jump silver in London last summer.

“I was sport mad from an early age, basketball, volleyball, cross country, swimming, tennis until the age of 12 when I found rugby - I absolutely fell in love with it. That’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to be an international rugby player.

“Just before I turned 16, I was in a boating accident, which left me as an amputee. I had part of my right leg amputated, just above my ankle and I had to put a different spin on my life. It was really difficult because sport was my passion, my life and my end goal. I was then sat in a hospital bed wondering if I’d ever walk again let alone run.”

Rather than give up, the 28 year old’s strength shone through and five years on, Reid was out on the track with a new goal in mind. But her next journey didn’t come without its challenges.

“I thought sport wasn’t going to be an option and that was a really tough prospect, but getting an artificial leg and walking again was a process and the competitor inside me was saying I’m going to walk better than anyone else. It takes a little bit of time for your stump to strengthen and toughen up because skin and bones aren’t designed to take that kind of force.

“Fast forward to 2006, I watched track and field practice at university and that’s when it hit me, ‘I wonder how fast I still am?’ That’s when I heard about disability sport -  I thought it was going to be easy, I’d rock up and completely dominate. I went to my first sprinting competition, and I got beaten by a three year old. Then I realised it wasn’t going to be so easy, but that’s when I got in to it and knew it was going to be a massive challenge.”

Reid will line up in the long jump at the Sainsbury’s IPC Athletics Grand Prix Final on Saturday 29 June at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium, and believes that the first ever Grand Prix series can emulate the success of the IAAF Diamond League.

“I think the series is absolutely ground-breaking. The Diamond League was born out of some meets in Europe, which eventually joined together and again it was an evolution process. This is the start of ours and it’s great to be a part of this legacy. Competing in a Grand Prix final for the first time is awesome and it just shows where our sport is heading, which is really healthy.”

The former F44 long jump world record holder who boasts a personal best of 5.28m is one of nine of Britain’s London 2012 Paralympic medallists including Hannah Cockroft, Jonnie Peacock, David Weir and Richard Whitehead that will descend on the West Midlands, and Reid is ready to get back out in front of a home crowd after the success of London 2012.

“The crowd are going to get hit with an incredible display of athleticism. It’s a testament to human will in terms of what can be overcome and made possible if you believe and never give up. It’s going to be a great afternoon, and you’re not going to want to miss out on it.

“There are only some performances that are possible under incredible circumstances, which means that the adrenalin rush that you get being surrounded by your competitors and having a crowd out there – it just allows performances to come through that aren’t possible without that environment.

“When you have that behind you cheering you on, it matters. It’s an awesome feeling and a complete pleasure to share that with the British public.”

Whilst acknowledging that disability sport is still in its infancy in terms of growth, Reid is positive about the future and with the IPC European Championships in Swansea next year and the IPC World Championships in London in 2017, the eloquently-spoken Reid is believes that the UK couldn’t be better placed moving forwards.

“It’s a natural evolution of how things are going. Anytime when a sport first starts, there’s a growing period, like women’s pole vault, it’s got increasingly more competitive and a sharp rapid rise in the event. From where Paralympics started to now, the progress has been amazing – there’s better technology, sport science and equipment. When you put on a track meet, it’s entertainment and what you’re going to see from Paralympians is absolutely incredible and deserves a big stage.

“I think we’re beginning to see a new era and it will just become more common to see disability sport in a positive light in the media. I was in a school the other day and parent came up to me with a child with cerebral palsy and explained to me the impact that the Paralympic Games had on her daughter, who went from hating gym class to saying, ‘I can do this.’ It’s not strange for a person with a disability to be described as athletic or strong. I can try and I can get better and to me, that’s a much bigger and more important legacy.”

You can follow Stef Reid on her journey on Twitter @RunJumpStefReid

Stef Reid will be competing at the Sainsbury’s IPC Athletics Grand Prix Final on Sunday 29 June. For more information on how to purchase tickets, please visit here