17th August 2010

Stefanie Reid INTERVIEW

17 August 2010

As the "two years to go" anniversary fast approaches for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, athletes on the UKA World Class Performance Programme (Paralympic) will be featured on the UKA website. Four time Paralympian Stephen Miller was the first athlete to be profiled earlier this month, with F44 long jump World Record holder Stefanie Reid, new to the programme in 2010, the latest athlete to speak to UKA (below).

“People are so surprised when they walk into my closet and see my shelves full of legs,” laughs Paralympic Games bronze medallist Stef Reid, who goes onto describe her training and competition leg – the ‘cheetah’,  as well as her water leg, her general sports leg, her high heel leg and her everyday leg. “The high heel leg is definitely one of my favourites. I wear it for fancy evenings out, for dinner or dancing, and it allows me to wear three inch heels while doing that!”

“Not so long ago I booked a pedicure,” she continues. “I called the place and explained that I only had one foot and asked if I could have it half price. The girl said ‘no’, so I figured she mustn’t have heard me correctly, so I told her again that I only had one foot, so I’d effectively need half the time, and half the materials. They still said ‘no’! In the end I insisted that they did all the same things to my artificial foot as to my real foot; I wish I’d had a camera to record the girl’s face as she did a deep tissue massage and painted my nails!”

Not that she allows her life to revolve around a packed diary of social activities. In fact, while she’s proven to be hugely popular since she announced her allegiance to Great Britain and Northern Ireland earlier this year, the T44/F44 athlete is fully committed to her London 2012 dream.

Born in New Zealand to a Scottish father and an English mother, Reid and her family moved to Toronto, Canada when she was four. With the option to compete for three countries – based on her of place of birth, the nationality of her parents and her place of residence – she formerly represented Canada in the Beijing Paralympic Games, finishing third in the 200m and fifth in the long jump, although she was disappointed to go out of the 100m competition in the first round.

“I botched my performance,” she admits;  “if I’m honest, in terms of running, the 100m is probably one of my better events, but it just didn’t come together out there.”

“Beijing was a huge learning curve for me. It was my first experience of a Paralympic Games and I learned a lot, especially in terms of the mental aspect of the game. I’ve also learned a lot over the years since then in terms of how to train, and gold in London is definitely my aim.”

The US-based athlete, who is married to Canadian international wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos, has an interim focus in this Olympiad and is currently preparing for the IPC Athletics World Championships in New Zealand 2011. Having enjoyed medal success with her third place finish in Beijing, she now wants to build on that and experience what it feels like to stand on top of the podium.

So why did she choose to compete for Great Britain and Northern Ireland? “Ultimately it was a high performance decision, but it was a tough decision,” she explains. “I grew up competing for Canada but the opportunity presented itself to me in 2008 and it was something I’d been thinking about for a long time. It offered me such an amazing opportunity to compete in a home Games in London.”

“It really came down to the quality of the programme that Britain delivers right now and the funding put into it. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m in this to win and Britain has one of the best programmes available to support me to do that.”

“One of the questions my mum asked me was ‘can you wear the British uniform with pride when you walk into that stadium in 2012?’ and I can; I’m really proud of my heritage and it would be an honour to represent Great Britain in that capacity. I want to be part of it and I’m truly honoured that I’m going to have that chance. Both of my parents are really proud of where they’re from and that pride has filtered down to me.”

Reid became an amputee at the age of 16 when she was accidentally run over by a motor boat and caught up in its propellers. As a sports-loving teenager, her surgeon thought it was in her best interests to amputate, thus allowing her the best opportunity to continue her active lifestyle with an artificial leg.

Initially, and not surprisingly, she had found the first week very difficult. “I was very angry,” she says; “I had no motivation and I didn’t want to do anything.  But one morning, seven days after the accident, Nurse Claudette came in with my breakfast.  I told her I wasn’t going to eat it. To my surprise, she slammed it down on my bed and told me off. She said there was a little girl in another ward who just lost both her legs and she could still smile, so what was my problem? She said my family were a mess and needed to see me smile, even if I didn’t feel like it. She marched off and told me the tray had better be eaten by the time she came back.” 

“I was shocked. How could she talk to me like that after what I had been through? But she was the first one who really challenged me and expected something more from me besides moping.  It felt really good and that day I made a choice that I was still going to enjoy my life. I really like challenges and setting goals for myself and when I became an amputee, everyday things became a challenge.”

Reid had been very involved in rugby before the accident and within a year she was back playing, but she encountered some problems with her prosthetic because many of the referees were concerned it might injure other players in scrums. “In the end I got tired of only being able to play in 50% of the games, so I decided to focus my attention on school,” she explains. “I received a full academic scholarship to study biochemistry at Queen’s University in Canada and two months into the school year, I saw a track and field practice, and decided that I wanted to be a sprinter. I called the coach, and he invited me out to try. Three years later, I competed at the World Championships. “

Interestingly, while her hard work and determination have been key to her progress in track and field, most recently with a new F44 World Record and IPC World Athletics Championships qualifying ‘A’ standard in the long jump of 5.09m and lifetime best of 14.26/14.19w in the 100m, she believes that her cheetah foot is so technically advanced that it’s undeniably the cause of the overall upward curve in elite performance in the sport: “When I step down it acts as a spring and stores energy, and when I push off it that energy returns to me,” she says. “This design is definitely responsible for the drop in times from amputees over the past 10-15 years.”

But she’s determined to win a place on the podium because of her own talents and not the science, design technology or the misfortune of others in the field, such as happened in Beijing when, in a dramatic race, the leading athlete fell and took out another competitor. While Reid had expected to medal, she was only placed fourth at that point, but was able to remain composed to battle into third for a medal. “I was very proud of that race,” she says. “I ran a huge personal best when it counted and I was able to react quickly to a situation and capitalise on it. Success is always the result of hard work and commitment, along with some luck. That win definitely involved a lot more luck than I would like, so next time I want to be able to rely more so on my hard work.”

Now being coached by Dan Pfaff at Lee Valley, London is a second home to the Dallas athlete who is fast becoming one of the ‘faces of 2012’. Already, in addition to numerous media interviews, she with a starring role in Channel 4’s 90-minute documentary, titled ‘Inside Incredible Athletes’, which will celebrate their pre-Paralympics ‘presence’ and kick start a schedule of activity advertised as the strongest pre-Games broadcast coverage with the greatest marketing support the Paralympics has ever received on UK television.

She has already proved her track and field credentials and her CV will only be further enhanced by her TV debut and media presence – her work ethic, without doubt, is undisputed.

The series will continue next month.