Paralympic icons: Lee Pearson, Equestrian

Today marks 600 days to go until the London 2012 Paralympic Games, so it’s a good moment to have a closer look at a Paralympic icon. Step forward Lee Pearson, who won three gold medals for Britain in Paralympic Equestrian Dressage at the Beijing 2008 Games.

Lee was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. Speaking about it, Lee says: ‘Remember this was 1974 not 1874, but I suppose I was not a pretty sight; my right foot was wrapped round my left knee, my left foot was wrapped round my right knee, my arms and hands were horribly twisted and I had an ugly birthmark covering half my face and the top of my head. Mum took a gulp, picked me up and gave the first of a million cuddles.’

All athletes face huge challenges and competition to become Paralympians or Olympians. They need to have exceptional talent and skill; they need to focus and nurture these with the right coaching and train hard and long; and they need to get the most out of competing with rivals and working within teams. Paralympians face extra barriers, which is why their quest to break records and be the best in world is all the more remarkable.

In 1996, Lee watched the Atlanta Paralympic Games and something clicked. He decided to take up the challenge of competing full-time in disabled sport. The grace and power of equestrianism displayed on the screen in 1996 inspired him to do the same – and within four years he was competing at the Sydney Games in Paralympic Dressage. However he didn’t just compete, he won. This was a successful sportsman, at the top of his game.

This is in inspirational story, but what makes Lee an icon? For me it’s his sheer dominance of his event, and the fact he’s so consistent at it. So far, he has won nine gold medals in Dressage – three at the Beijing Games, three in Athens and three in Sydney. Adding in world, European and UK championships (including the World Equestrian Games last year) and this man has led his event for well over a decade. He wins in disabled as well as non-disabled competition.  Will he be competing in majestic Greenwich Park in our own Games in 600 days’ time? He certainly seems to have it in his sights: ‘I’ve got to do London 2012, to do the Paralympics in your own country is going to be amazing.’

Unsurprisingly, he’s won lots of awards throughout his life for his sport. He won his first, however, when he was just six years old. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher carried him up the staircase of 10 Downing Street in 1980 to receive a Children of Courage award after already braving 15 major operations. While being celebrated as a Paralympic icon isn’t an award in itself, Lee Pearson, I salute you.


~ by superbowlnyc on January 30, 2011.

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