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As the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic season comes to an end, Team GB can look back on this year and deem it a success. In fact, they can deem it as more than that; it’s been a phenomenal season, especially for the Paralympians.
After breaking their all-time medal haul at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Team GB passed the baton over to the Paralympic team, who continued the record-breaking legacy in style. The Paralympic team broke a 28 year record, accumulating a record high 147 medals, with a staggering 64 of those medals being gold.
With every one of those 147 medals being a great example of personal triumph and a never-say-never attitude, it’s difficult to pick a single stand out moment from the games, so I will take a look at a few of the most amazing and tear-jerking moments of the Rio 2016 Paralympic games.
First up, in the pool alone saw Team GB win a staggering 47 swimming medals. One of these was a gold for Ellie Robinson, who won gold in the S6 50m women’s butterfly at the age of just 15. After being diagnosed with achondroplasia at birth, she was then given further bad news, with the diagnosis of perthes hip disease in 2012. This led to her giving up swimming despite starting at the age of four.
Having watched her idol Ellie Simmonds win gold in London, Robinson was determined to replicate Simmonds’ success and returned to training two years later in 2014, with the goal of competing in Rio 2016. She didn’t just compete however, she smashed the Paralympic record on the way to her first Paralympic gold, in front of her tearfully proud parents. At the age of just 15, expect Ellie Robinson to continue to achieve success at many Paralympics to come.
More success in the pool came in the men’s S9 50m freestyle, with 19 year old Briton Matt Wylie claiming gold in the most dramatic fashion. In his first ever Paralympic games, Wylie found himself in a three-horse race for gold, winning the race by his fingertips with a time of 25.95 seconds, which was an astonishing 0.04 of a second ahead of second place, and 0.05 seconds ahead of third place. A literal fingertip win, and a first Paralympic gold for Matt Wylie.
In both Robinson and Wylie, the 2016 Rio games may have unearthed two more future Paralympic stars.
A side from the pool, Team GB tasted success in almost all sports they entered. No more so than in the first ever wheelchair tennis. After their historic doubles win at Wimbledon, the pair of Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid followed up with a historic silver medal in the Paralympics wheelchair doubles. It was then time for the singles action, and once again the final included 24 year old Gordon Reid and 18 year old Alfie Hewett. This time, however, they were pitted against each other. Not only was this a historic first ever wheelchair tennis final, it was made all the more so historic by the fact it was Team GB vs Team GB. The honour of being crowned the first ever Paralympic wheelchair tennis gold medallist fell to the 24 year old Gordon Reid, who defeated his doubles partner 6-2, 6-1.
It wasn’t just the young members of Team GB who experienced the medal success. An eighth Paralympic medal was awarded to 67 year old Anne Dunham, who won the silver medal in the Equestrian Grade 1a championship. After winning gold in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, Dunham probably thought her medal winning days were over, but her success at the age of 67 just proves you are never too old to continue living your dream.
There was also a case which provides evidence that it is never too late to begin your dream, and that every cloud has a silver lining. Or, in Megan Giglia’s case, a gold lining. Whilst working as a gymnastics teacher in 2013, Giglia suffered a stroke which led to her being in a 2 week medically induced coma, and she awoke to find herself diagnosed with epilepsy. Determined not to let her illness get the better of her, Giglia’s sheer desire saw her take up cycling in 2014, and her condition saw her classified as a C3 athlete. Despite not taking up cycling until 2014, Giglia won gold in the women’s C1-3 3,000m individual pursuit on the opening day of the games. It was this incident which triggered the gold rush, inspired a nation, and taught us that it is important to keep on dreaming.
And of course, it isn’t just the medals that matter. The honour of overcoming such personal heartache to even compete at the games is a phenomenal achievement in its own right. I salute every athlete who competed at the games, as the desire and determination shown by each and every one of them to overcome their condition or injury and prove that life goes on is an example to us all.
More of the same please for Tokyo 2020!