We continue our series of interviews with parasports athletes ahead of the 2016 Paralympic Games taking place in Rio during September.
Despite being so new to rowing, Grace Clough has already been part of a World Cup winning crew in Varese, where the British four set world-best times on consecutive days as they won gold in emphatic style – and found success at the World Championships in Aiguebelette which proved to be a much tighter affair with the GB crew digging deep to see off a strong challenge from the United States and retain their title.
Even though you’ve only been rowing for three years you’ve already won a World Cup and the World Championships. Can you explain your dramatic rise in the sport?
I attended a SportsFest event put on by BPA at Sheffield. (I thought it was a bit of sign: ‘I’m from Sheffield – so I should probably attend this’.) I saw it advertised whilst I was watching the ‘Last Leg’. Alex Brooker was going to all of these SportsFest events to find a sport he could participate in. I thought I might be a bit old for the event because I was 22 at the time and I thought they were looking for younger athletes but I attended the event.
Did you take up sports with an eye on elite competition?
It seems crazy now that I’m doing this and going to Rio. At school, when London won the 2012 bid I knew that I could classify for parasports but I didn’t know that I would be good enough to do it. So I sat in class with two of the boys in class and the teacher said that it was fantastic that we’d just won the bid. I turned to them and I must have been 10 or 11 and said “Guys I think I want to be an Olympian” and they were rolling on the floor and crying with laughter. “You can’t just decide you’re going to be an Olympian Grace, you have to be good at sport – not just play it!” So I knew from a young age that it was a dream of mine to do it but I felt like I was just like a boy saying ‘I want to be a footballer’ I didn’t actually think that I could make it a reality – and then it was – thanks to the SportsFest.
One of the important parts of your story was SportsFest. What would you say to anyone who’s currently not sure whether they should attend?
I would say that I never thought it would be me either and I just went to the event thinking: ‘I don’t have to be an elite athlete; maybe there’s a sport or a club out there for me or maybe there’s a new sport that I’ve not tried that could be quite good for me with Erbs palsy. So I’d say to them to just go and try.
The only reason I’m here today is because I didn’t say no to any of the opportunities that were passed to me. So I would just say to anyone, you never know what could happen.
Can I ask about your disability and how it affects you as a sportsperson?
I’ve had Erbs palsy from birth. My shoulder got caught on my mum’s pelvis. I’ve got full movement in my hands, they weren’t affected but my shoulder and forearms were and I’ve had operations to try to correct it so it’s weaker and it doesn’t move as well. I’ve grown up not thinking anything of it – it’s just my weaker arm and I used to slightly protect it.
How does a team on the top of the world get better?
I think it’s just knowing that we literally all have to get better. Everyone wants to win gold in Rio but the only way that we’re going to do that is if we’re all better athletes than we were the year before. No-one can be complacent. First of all, in such a strong team someone could take their seat (in the boat) and then secondly, because we still want to remain undefeated.
What are the steps between now and Rio?
We’ve got the World Cup which is in Poland – so we’ll be there. Then the big one!
“Grace Clough was speaking on behalf of SAS – the leader in analytics software and services. SAS is the Official Analytics Partner of British Rowing and the GB Rowing Team at: www.sas.com”