Anne Dickens goes from gamesmaker to Paralympic champion

Great Britain's Anne Dickins celebrates winning gold in the Women's KL3 Final. Picture: PA.
Great Britain's Anne Dickins celebrates winning gold in the Women's KL3 Final. Picture: PA.
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Four years after working as a London 2012 gamesmaker, Anne Dickins is a Paralympic champion after overcoming motion sickness and a reality checklist that suggested the task was “impossible”.

And 20 years after becoming a Paralympic swimming champion, Jeanette Chippington won the first Paralympic canoeing title as the sport made its debut in Rio.

Chippington’s KL1 gold was the first of three for Great Britain’s women at Lagoa, and KL2 glory followed for Emma Wiggs, who 18 years ago was shearing sheep on her gap year in Australia when she contracted a virus that initially paralysed her and left her with irreparable damage to the nerves in her legs.

After two golds and two bronze medals – for Ian Marsden in the KL1 and Nick Beighton in KL2 – Dickins knew she had to deliver in the women’s KL3, and did as Britain’s golden girls shone in Rio.

Only Rob Oliver missed out, finishing fifth in the KL3 final.

“When I arrived here on the first day (in Rio) I felt like I was in gamesmaker mode – I wanted to show people to their seats and stuff,” said the 49-year-old Dickins, a mum of two.

“I took part (in London) because I didn’t think I could do sport any more, and suddenly I’m just catapulted straight back into the thick end of elite sport and I’m standing here now as Paralympic champion.”

Dickins, formerly an endurance mountain biker, was left with a weak right leg and unable to cycle after a freak back injury in 2011.She initially slipped on a bike pump, then fell off a windsurfer on holiday, then exacerbated the injury putting on a shoe after a cycling holiday.

The physiotherapist from Oxted, Surrey had ruptured a disc in her back and injured nerves in her leg.

She had joked she would target Rio. “I don’t think deep down I really believed it,” she added. “If I had ticked off on a reality checklist, I’d have screwed it up and put it in the bin. There were so many reasons in my self-belief mechanism that made it impossible. I had sea sickness, I’d never been in a boat. I was too old. I did endurance sport. I was a working mum.

“But something about the magic of the Olympics and the Paralympics made me want to have a go, and made me think that the impossible can come true.”

She is twice a world champion, having first stepped into a kayak in 2012, and had rarely stepped into a boat before after developing a phobia on holiday aged two.

She had three months of treatment for motion sickness and can now go to watch 3D films or read when a passenger in a car.

“It’s the same treatment they give fighter pilots,” she said. “I spent three months feeling completely wretched, absolutely nauseous.”

Chippington who won two golds at Atlanta 1996 and ten more medals across five Games as a swimmer from 1988.

Another mum of two, the 46-year-old from Maidenhead, Berkshire initially had not planned to take sport seriously again, but was relieved she had. “Right from the start with para-canoe I was very successful so there was a lot of pressure on me,” Chippington said. “I think that pressure got to me at the worlds this year when I got the silver. Looking back I think that was the best thing that could have happened. I got to this race and I thought ‘This is mine’.”

Wiggs’ win was commanding. The 36-year-old from London is a five-time world champion and was reluctant to dwell on the events of 18 years ago which led to her impairment.

Wiggs, who played sitting volleyball at London 2012, said: “My focus in the early years was getting my degree and doing my job as a PE teacher and it wasn’t until quite late on that sport came into my life again.”