Disability

Rio 2016: 'I feel like I've done a day before I even get to training'

Jo Butterfield Image copyright PA

Paralympic gold medallist Jo Butterfield explains the challenges of being taken away from a regular routine at international competitions.

"Most people think we just turn up and do our sport, they don't realise how much effort it takes," says field athlete Jo Butterfield - who won gold for ParalympicsGB in the F51 club throw on Sunday.

In 2010, Jo went into hospital for an operation on a tumour on her spinal cord. There was a 0.01% chance of paralysis, she was told. But she woke up paralysed from the waist down. Since then, the "small things" in life have taken her a lot longer.

"Sometimes I feel like I've had a training session before I've got dressed," she says. "It takes me around three hours to go to the toilet, and get washed and dressed." Every other morning she wakes up thinking: "Can I not have a day off, or even an hour?"

Routine is important. Everything takes a lot of planning and at home, in Glasgow, everything needs to be in the right place to allow Jo to reach what she needs and move around in her wheelchair easily.

But being displaced at international competitions means that organisation is taken out of her control, and there is only so much preparation that can be done. "The first few days at a camp or holding camp are just getting my bearings," she says, "working out where I'm going to put my case so I can reach it, have I got a seat in the toilet so I can get on, can I sit in the shower?"

At Doha for the World Championships last year, she arrived to discover there was no shower in the room, so she found one at the swimming pool she could use. And at Doha she could not reach the correct button in the lift for her floor so she resorted to carrying a shoe around with her to reach it.

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Media captionSport is such a leveller - Butterfield

For most of us this would be an annoyance, but Jo takes it as just another challenge to be met. "I'm very good at thinking outside the box," she says.

When she first became disabled, people assumed she would move back in with her parents in Yorkshire. But her reaction was: "No, my home and life are in Glasgow." She was determined to make this happen and says that even when she was in hospital, her chief goal was to remain independent.

"I know everybody can't, but for me it was really important not to have a personal assistant," she says. "So I spent a lot of time and repetition. Practice, practice, practice."

Most of this was learning how to cook, clean, and transfer in and out of the car - everything that meant she could look after her personal care and be in control of her day and routine without having to rely on other people.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jo Butterfield (centre) celebrates her gold in the F51 club throw

She does get tired though, and admits she needs to make sure she rests. On a Wednesday, she has a light afternoon built into her training schedule, but she ends up doing housework, which can take her a few hours and is still difficult for her. So proper rest is important.

It has been just over five years since Jo became paralysed and she says she feels like the same person. Actually, she says she was OK with it straight away. "I was determined it wasn't going to change who I am, and certainly not make me any worse of a person."

There is one thing she says she desperately misses, though - just "popping out" without having to plan with precision.

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