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Lucas reflects a year on from Paralympic gold
3:20pm Thursday 5th September 2013 in Sport
Southampton sailor Helena Lucas tomorrow celebrates the first anniversary of her Paralympic Games gold medal.
Lucas claimed an impressive victory in the one-person 4.4mR class at Weymouth and Portland, beating what was an otherwise all-male line-up.
Reflecting on her achievement, and how her life has changed since, she said: “It’s bizarre, a surreal kind of feeling, to think that it was a year ago that I won my Paralympic gold. I still have to pinch myself every now and then that it was me, it did happen to me.
“Although the year since the Games has been a little low-key in terms of my 2.4mR sailing, I’ve been doing a lot of SB20 sailing this season.
“It’s been really good to have had the opportunity to sail with other people and sail in a different class – I’ve learned quite a lot from doing that.
“At the end of the day it will make me a much better all-round sailor which can only help. It also keeps me fresh and excited about the 2.4mR and Rio.
“Looking back, it’s quite remarkable thinking how mentally strong I was at the Games. I was so, so focused. I look back at the results and the windward mark roundings, and I think ‘wow!’ “I had no idea that I rounded the windward mark in fifth and sixth places – I thought I’d gone round in the top three every time.
“I put a lot of work into having that correct mindset at the right time. Looking back it was amazing, and it was really interesting how long it took for it to wear off.
“For ages everyone was saying ‘You’re a gold medallist,’ and it was sort of ‘yeah...that’s kind of cool,’ but it hadn’t really sunk in. I’d just been taking each day at a time, each race, each start.
“It was such a shame that as there was no wind on the final day – I didn’t get the chance to seal my gold medal with a final race and have my celebration on the water.
“That’s probably why in some ways it took that bit longer for the achievement to sink in. You don’t imagine you’re going to win your gold medal in the dinghy park having watched ‘Top Gun’ in the team container.
“It was a little bit surreal and not quite how I visualised winning my gold medal, but it was still an amazing week and I have some fantastic memories from it.
“Beijing was not a good Games for us and apart from the Sonar demonstration medal in 1996, Britain hadn’t ever won a medal for sailing at the Paralympics.
“Bizarrely though, in spite of that, it didn’t feel a particularly pressured event. There was such amazing support from the team and from the British public and everybody just really wanted you to do well.
“I guess it also comes back to the mindset I was in. I knew that I’d done absolutely everything I could, I’d had the best preparation and had left no stone unturned.
“The result was going to be what it was going to be. All I could do was go out and do my best and it was either going to be good enough or it wasn’t. I knew that, and I knew whatever happened there would be no regrets and no ‘if onlys…’ “If you go in with that sort of preparation then you don’t really feel that kind of pressure.
“For me, being around in Weymouth and Portland for the Olympic Games beforehand was an invaluable experience and one which I really embraced.
“The Games is a surreal environment and especially when it’s in your home town, so to be able to get used to the fact that there’s this massive thing going on on your doorstep really helped me kind of deal with that surrealness for when the Paralympics came around.
“Watching the Olympic guys’ successes and their failures I think also really helped me.
“I’ve always felt a really strong part of the British Sailing Team, so just to be able to be there and support them and be on the Nothe, cheering them on, was great.
“I remember watching Ben’s medal race and Bart and Perce’s medal race and just having two completely different emotions.
“I was devastated for the boys after the Star medal race and completely elated after Ben’s medal race.
“For me also, it struck home that anything can happen – that there will be curve balls, and whoever deals with those curve balls best will come out the Paralympic Champion.
“I learnt a lot of lessons from watching and being there and supporting the guys and I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. “I remember being in our Portland local – The Cove – during the Olympics watching Super Saturday and the place was packed.
“It was a beautiful day and everybody was outside, and suddenly everybody rushed inside when the finals came on. Everyone was yelling at the TV, you couldn’t move for the number of people. You were swept up in the whole emotion. Everyone was so excited and into it all. I’ll never forget that.
“There was an amazing appreciation of sport, success, and achievement it really hit home that day what it was we were involved with.
“I think I have changed as a person since the Paralympics. I think I’m a lot more relaxed, having finally, after all these years, reached my goal and having done it at a home Games. You just know that no one can take that from you.
“I definitely feel a lot calmer, there’s less of an intensity. It’s good to have a certain amount of intensity, but sometimes it can be a bit too much and becomes almost an obsession.
“I find it a lot easier to see the bigger picture now. Once you’ve done it once, you know how and why you achieved what you did, and if you can go down a similar route it will stand you in good stead.
“I find it easier now to take disappointments like at the recent World Championship where you have gear failure or if things don’t quite go to plan.
“It’s easier to deal with and see it as a stepping stone to winning another gold medal. It’s not life and death.
“I think the British public were just amazing during the Paralympics – they opened their eyes and they saw us as athletes, they saw past the disabilities and they saw the personalities.
“I think the British public’s perception of disabled people has really changed – they’re in awe of what you can do and achieve at whatever level, whether you’re into sport or you work at the local supermarket, it’s about how you manage life and how you cope with life. I think everyone now has a huge amount of respect. “In terms of the infrastructure, you’ve got to give it time. I know that the country will become more wheelchair accessible and infrastructure will improve but it’s not going to happen overnight and it’s not going to happen in a year.
“People’s perceptions are more important – with that happening, the other stuff will come off the back of it.
“I’ve done loads of talks at schools and clubs – so many kids are so inspired. When I go round schools, the kids are all ‘I’m going to go to the Olympics and I’m going to do running, or this or that…’ so the message is going out there to all the able-bodied kids and the disabled kids.
“I’d never really heard of the Paralympics before I started 2.4mR sailing and now everyone’s heard of it. There are so many excited kids of whatever level of ability who now have a vision.
“I heard a great story of a girl in a wheelchair who hated her wheelchair. She could just about walk and wherever she could walk she would. Then she watched the Paralympics and now she thinks her wheelchair is so cool. It’s the coolest thing and now she loves it.
“So perceptions have changed, and you can do anything you want. For me it’s been really inspirational going round schools. I always come out absolutely beaming afterwards.
“One of the biggest things with my medal is that I want people to see it and touch it – otherwise it’s just a lump of metal. It’s their reaction to it and what it means to them as well that makes it so special for me too. I’d rather share it with everyone than hide it away in the sock drawer or wherever.
“No one in Paralympic sailing has ever managed to defend their Games title, so I guess for me that’s the kind of motivation now for Rio.
“I feel so privileged to have achieved my dream at a home Games and I am aware that Rio will be different – it won’t have that same kind of feeling to it. But I am looking forward to trying to defend my title and I think that’s the next goal. That would be a pretty cool thing to do.”
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