Jeanette Chippington MBE

My physiotherapist recommended that I joined SportsAble as in 1982 I got a virus that disabled me and I could no longer use my legs. I became a wheelchair user and couldn’t swim at all but I gave it a go.

SportsAble’s swimming coaches actually got me swimming and I started to get good really quickly and I entered local galas and then national competitions. I was then selected for the GB swimming squad.

My first major competition was in 1995. At the beginning of my career I swam all four strokes but towards the end I specialised in 50m and 100m freestyle plus team relays. At the time I was being mentored by another SportsAble Paralympian, Denise Smith. She was an inspiration to me and I wanted to get to her level and beat her – which I did! I had to do a lot of upper body training and start each day with training at 5.30am – and that was just the first session of the day. Back then all I did was swim, eat, swim, eat, swim, swim some more and sleep. I even trained on my honeymoon and flew straight from there to the World Championships in New Zealand!

I feel very fortunate to medal in every Games that I entered and I have wonderful memories from each. Seoul was just amazing and was very special as it was my first experience. I was 18, on the other side of the world and I was taking it all in. The opening ceremony was amazing. Barcelona was great as it was the first time that Paralympians stayed in the village with all the other athletes. Atlanta was extra special as that is when I won two gold medals and Sydney, well, that was just unique. Athens is now very memorable to me as although I didn’t know it at the time that was to be my last Games but actually I didn’t think I was good enough to qualify to go in the first place so I was delighted to have one more Paralympic opportunity.

Of course in between the Paralympic Games there were the World and European Championships but you don’t always see the same people on those circuits. At the Paralympics there are many more competitors and the standard of competition is high.

There is something special about the Paralympics. All of a sudden the emotion of it all catches you out. I remember sitting in the changing rooms after the medal ceremony at Atlanta and thinking: “Ah yes, this is why I do what I do.” Just being a competitor and representing your country is enough but if you’re lucky to win a medal no one can take that feeling away from you.

To anyone thinking of joining SportsAble I would say have a go – try all the sports on offer and find one that you enjoy. You have to enjoy what you do as then you don’t mind putting in all the hours of training. Nothing comes easy. If you want to get to world class level you have to give your life over to the training but the hard work pays off and the feeling of achievement is amazing.

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