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TRCH David Suchet

Notts Tully Kearney and Charlotte Henshaw on Winning Gold at Record Breaking Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

11 October 21 interview: George White
illustrations: Emmy Smith

We catch up with two of Nottingham’s Paralympic heroes after a record-breaking games in Tokyo...

Tully Kearney

World Championship success in Montreal, Glasgow and London, a European title in Dublin and two Paralympic medals in Tokyo - Nottingham-born swimmer Tully Kearney is undoubtedly one of the nation’s finest athletes. We hear from the 24-year-old after she achieved her lifelong goal of winning on the world’s biggest stage…

On Nottingham…
I’ve got a lot of family there and I still support Notts County, that’s my main connection these days. Cerebral Palsy Sport have their hub in Nottingham too and I’ve tried a lot of different sports with them, so I do visit quite a bit. 

On winning four golds, a silver and a bronze at the 2015 World Championships… 
That was crazy. I was struggling going into Glasgow, I had a shoulder injury at the time and I wasn’t feeling that confident. Then my coach pulled me aside and said, “No pressure, but you could be GB’s highest medal earner at this competition.” I looked at him like, “Don’t be ridiculous.” But thankfully that’s what happened! 

When I got in the water I didn’t feel like a disabled person, I just felt free. I think it’s so important for every kid to see that as a possibility

On being nominated for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year… 
I think it’s important to get para-athletes out there alongside able-bodied athletes because it’s not often that we’re paired up or put together. So that was a really big thing for me, to make it to the last three. 

On Tokyo 2020… 
Before Tokyo I was quite concerned. I’d been dealing with an injury, so I was in a place where I couldn’t do proper training and I had no idea where my speed was. But once I got to the Paralympic village I was a bit more relieved. That was such a shock, it was massive, and it made me think about how my goal was just to get to the Paralympic Games - so I just wanted to enjoy it after I was forced to pull out of Rio five years ago. 

On inspiring others…
Growing up, swimming was the only sport where I could keep up with kids my age. When I got in the water I didn’t feel like a disabled person, I just felt free. I think it’s so important for every kid to see that as a possibility if they want it. My message is I’m proof that even if things have rocked your world, you can still achieve your goals.

Charlotte Henshaw

After a stunning swimming career, which included a silver medal at London 2012, Mansfield’s own Charlotte Henshaw decided to try her hand at canoeing. Several world titles and a Paralympic gold later, it’s safe to say it was a good choice. We chat to the champ about her hometown, her trip to Tokyo and her love for musical theatre…

On Mansfield…
We have such a rich history of creating world-class swimmers and athletes through the pathways we have. Sometimes Mansfield gets a bad reputation, but I think with our sporting achievements we’re encouraging a bit more positivity. I’m really proud to represent my home town and hopefully we can continue to breed the success that we’ve had for such a long time.

On London 2012… 
It’s hard to put into words what it was like to compete at a home games. It was amazing to be a part of. London started to change the perception of the Paralympics in the UK. We went from an hour’s highlights on the BBC in Beijing to full coverage on Channel 4.  

On switching from swimming to canoeing… 
I knew after Rio I’d come to the end of what I had to offer in terms of my swimming career, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the Paralympic movement. When I came home I had a meeting and I was matched up with canoeing. Straight away it’s where I knew I was supposed to be for the foreseeable. I absolutely loved it! 

London started to change the perception of the Paralympics in the UK. We went from an hour’s highlights on the BBC in Beijing to full coverage on Channel 4

On Tokyo 2020… 
The volunteers there were so involved and excited to be a part of things - they made it feel like there was a real crowd. It was very different to previous years but I had an amazing time. I think because we thought it would never happen there was this massive sense of gratitude when we got there. We were all really thankful that we’d been given the opportunity to race.

On relaxing outside of work…
It’s no secret that I’m a massive musical theatre fan. I’m not ashamed of it! That’s my kind of escapism, the world I like to go into for a couple of hours and completely switch off. I’ve missed being able to do that so I’m looking forward to getting back into the land of jazz hands and singing and dancing. 

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