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Ten years ago Josie Pearson's life was shattered after a car crash left her paralysed<br/><br/>from the chest downwards. Today the Paralympian is on top of the world
Ten years ago Josie Pearsons life was shattered after a car crash left her paralysedfrom the chest downwards. Today the Paralympian is on top of the world...
In less than one year Josie Pearson of Hay-on-Wye has won a Paralympian gold medal in the discus, broken a world record, been named Herefordshire and Worcestershire Sports Personality of the Year and awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list.
I didnt expect it all and I was both honoured and proud to receive it, she says of the MBE. The games were a dream come true. It is what every athlete dreams of, to get to the pinnacle of their sport and be the champion. Before London 2012 I think a lot of people saw the Paralympics as the add-on event for disabled people. They didnt see us as elite athletes but now they do. I think the games definitely broke down a lot of barriers in that sense and really changed preconceptions of what it is to be a Paralympic athlete. We train just as hard and we dedicate just as much as our lives to it as our fellow Olympians.
Josie, aged 27, had always dreamt of sporting glory but thought if it came, it would be on horseback as a three-day eventer, not as an athlete in the Paralympics. Ten years ago, in May 2003 when she was studying for A Levels and hoping for a career with horses, her life changed forever when she was involved in a head-on car accident. Her boyfriend was killed and she suffered fractures in her neck which left her paralysed from the chest down. For a vivacious teenager who loved life it was a cruel turn of events and her equestrian dreams lay in tatters. But although she may have been robbed of the future she envisaged she was determined to make the most of life.
I have always been a positive and very determined person, some would say stubborn, but I have never been a person to dwell on the past. Whats happened has happened. I always look forward to what is happening tomorrow, not what happened yesterday. I just thought, well this has happened to me but Im not the worst off in the world and Im not going to let what has happened rule my life. I am going to do what I want to do, although I might have to do things in a slightly different way from what I was used to, but thats just the way it is.
And with the support of family and friends she certainly did things her way. After three months of bed rest Josie spent six months in rehabilitation at Oswestry Spinal Unit where she learnt to be independent and it was here she met fellow patient Alan Ash who played wheelchair rugby. This was the catalyst Josie needed, and sport, in particular wheelchair rugby, became her new focus and Beijing 2008 her goal.
Ive got a very close family and a very close circle of friends, and they were a hugely supportive, she says. I have been brought up to be positive and always look to the future. I always had big plans and I guess thats testament to my parents and my family, and how they brought me up.
Her determination to realise these big plans paid dividends and in 2008 she became the first woman to make it into the British Paralympic wheelchair rugby squad. But although they came fourth just out of the medals she decided to pursue individual sports and after trying track turned to the discus in 2011.
The decision proved a good one as just a few months later she won the Czech Open with a distance of 4.42 metres.
By August 2012 she was consistently throwing world record distances and entered the Paralympics as not only the clear favourite to take gold but also one tipped to break the world record. I knew I could do it. It was just a case of how many times I could do it and how far I could break it by, she says.
Josie ended up recording three throws over the existing record of 6.13 metres with her best throw measuring 6.58 metres. The golden girl of the Wye Valley had delivered in style.
It was a culmination for me of eight years of really hard work after I left rehab and hospital, she says. It makes everything worthwhile, and Ive achieved the ultimate in sport.
A post box in Hay has been painted gold in Josies honour and her face has adorned a stamp. She has paraded in London with fellow Olympic and Paralympic heroes and she met the Queen in October. How many people can say they have shaken hands with the Queen? she says. But perhaps the honour that has meant the most to her was her homecoming in Hay.
The parade in London was amazing because so many people turned up, but the homecoming in Hay was that bit more special because all of the people that were there; people I knew and care about, and that meant a lot more to me, she says.
For Josie, Hay is home and always will be. I love everything about the area. I love the countryside, I love the people, I love the community; its got such a good community spirit. I couldnt think of living anywhere different and I wouldnt want to, she says.
Here, away from competitions, she says she is just a typical girl. I love spending time with friends, just chilling out. I love Strictly Come Dancing, cinema, curling up on the sofa and watching a DVD, shopping I love shopping.
Sport has given her, she says, the opportunity to realise her dreams. It has just opened up so many opportunities for me and Ive done so many amazing things and met some amazing people.
So if she could go back in time what advice would she give that teenager stuck in a hospital bed nearly 10 years ago?
Just that there are so many opportunities and you can do whatever you want. And that there is a silver lining to every cloud.
Sporting Heroes rewarded
More than 230 guests, including six Paralympians, gathered at Sixways Stadium, Worcester for the 2012 Herefordshire and Worcestershire Sports Awards. The awards, organised by The Sports Partnership Herefordshire and Worcestershire in association with BBC Hereford and Worcester, range from coach of the year, which was won by Emma Patrick from Leominster, to sports personality of the year, which was won by Josie Pearson.