Interview with Paralympic canoeing champion Emma Wiggs


Paralympic champion in canoeing Emma Wiggs has been fortunate enough to have won a Gold medal at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

Emma, despite the current lockdown, has been training very hard in her sport.

“For everyone it’s been an extraordinary time,” she said. “But the important thing to remember is that we are doing what we should be doing by staying at home and staying safe by trying to help the NHS and everybody. It’s been extremely unusual as I’m used to training six days a week at a high-performance centre in Nottingham. So, to suddenly find myself at home every single day without the kind of facilities, has been a real challenge, but I think it’s something we have kind of risen to. From a Paralympic perspective for us, because we might have specialist equipment for us or coaches to help us do some of the training that is essential, to not have that was an extra challenge.”

Emma has been adapting to not being able to row on the waterways, and after tiding out her garage found an object that came in very useful for her.

“We were given bits and bobs of kit in terms of weight training and then we had to scrounge what we could from elsewhere and we were also given a canoeing ergo machine which is like a rowing machine for canoeing,” she said. “So, we erected a gazebo that we found in the garage in the tidy up and I think it was from the nineteen eighties, but we put that together and used it.”

When news broke that the Paralympics would be cancelled, it came as no surprise to Emma.

“I think it was relief to be honest in that moment because there had been such uncertainty with the decision not coming and actually when it did come it was a relief because we were 162 days away from the start line in Tokyo and suddenly it went to 528 or something. I was thinking now I can actually do what I want to do, what my heart wants to do, stay at home and do what I’m supposed to be doing and staying safe, but also I can get some training done without the pressure of thinking crikey I’ve got to race at the biggest stage in the world.”

Emma originally played sitting volleyball, but soon went into canoeing.

“Sitting volleyball was the sport that got me into Olympic sport in the run up to London and that relite this passion inside me and wanted to be doing sport and wanted the bits of me that still worked to get as far as I possibly could, so after London – which was an incredible experience for volleyball – I knew I wanted to see what more I could do against the best athletes in the world and in order to do that it meant that I had to change sports.”

Emma suffers from paralysis, after suffering a nasty virus when she was 18.

“I was on a gap year in Australia deciding to go and explore the world before going back to uni and probably going back to teaching full time,” she said.” We were working in a farm in the blue mountains, and for some reason the virus that most people got on the farm which was like a flu like, for some reason attacked the nerve ending in my body, it was one of those things.”

After suffering a bad injury, Emma struggled with her mental health.

“I had a wrist injury in August 2018 due to an accident in the gym, ten days before the World Championships and actually I found out I dislocated a bone in my wrist and ruptured the ligaments so it required surgery and that was ten days out from the biggest competition of the year which we went to and finished second,” she said.

“It was in the aftermath of that that I started to struggle. I came back and I had surgery and it was after that when I had just one working limb, I couldn’t transfer out of my chair, I couldn’t even do the basic hygiene things, and that was probably the first time in my life that I really felt disabled. Which being twenty years on from becoming disabled was a bit of a shock. It was probably six to seventh months of quiet challenging times from a mental health perspective, but looking back now from around a year from the worse point, I actually think that I’ve learned a huge amount from going through that and I feel like I’ve developed a huge amount as a person from going through that experience. I’m always going to have that wrist issue, but I’m in a much better place and actually going to do the very best that I can and be happy with that.”

Interview with Emma Wiggs:


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