Veteran Army Major Dr Jen Warren, from West Cumbria, is one of six athletes spending this week in PyeongChang 2018 to gain first-hand experience of a Paralympic Games.
The former St Bees School pupil has used a wheelchair since being injured in a skiing accident ten years ago. Since then, sport has played a huge role in boosting her physical and mental health and her dream is to represent her country at the top level.
She is in South Korea as part of the Paralympic Inspiration Programme (PiP) – a partnership between the British Paralympic Association (BPA) and Help for Heroes – which aims to provide developing athletes with knowledge that will prepare them for a future Games as a selected athlete, as well as inspire and excite potential future Paralympians in their ambitions.
“It’s such an honour to participate in such a prestigious programme. I have really struggled with self-belief so I hope the practical experience of a Paralympics without the stress of competition will help me realise my full potential,” said Jen who served in the RAMC in hospitals across the UK, Germany and Afghanistan before being medically-discharged.
“I’ve always enjoyed sport and led an active life whilst serving. I participated in team sports but a fear of failure stopped me enjoying competing as an individual.
“After my accident, sport took on a whole new meaning and I started to really enjoy competing. It was an outlet for frustration and an effective coping mechanism as well as getting me physically fitter enabling me to cope better and enjoy life more.”
Jen now lives in Warwickshire with her husband and daughter and works as an anaesthetist. Her father, the Rev Richard Lee, is a former High Sheriff of Cumbria and current team Rector at Egremont.
After winning Gold medals in cycling, athletics and swimming at last year’s Invictus Games, the 37-year-old was invited by the GB Paracanoe team to attend a talent ID day. She hadn’t been in a canoe since school but her experience of injury and disability had taught her never to turn down an opportunity. She hasn’t looked back since:
“I have genuinely found a sport I love and I’m excited about my future potential. I was selected for my first World Championships in 2017 but unfortunately injury meant I was unable to compete. This was an incredibly difficult experience but just motivates me to work harder. It is my dream to represent GB at a Paralympic Games and I’m really excited about what I can learn from the pinnacle of parasport.”
In PyeongChang, the PiP athletes will look to understand the scale and scope of the Games, experience the unique multi-sport environment and learn about some of the unique aspects of a Paralympic Games, including the Village, the media spotlight and mixed zone, and the crucial operations and logistics which support ParalympicsGB.
Additionally, there will be a curriculum that the participants will undertake, with lessons about nutrition, media, anti-doping, competition planning and goal setting, as well as to the expectation that they will keep up with their current training programmes. They will be supported by Help for Heroes beneficiary and Paralympic bronze medallist Dave Henson who will act as a mentor on the Programme.
Athletes were nominated by their National Governing Body based on a number of criteria including, but not limited to, being on a development pathway with an anticipated performance trajectory for the 2020 or 2022 Paralympic Games.
The Programme forms part of the existing BPA and Help for Heroes partnership which aims to support military athletes into sports pathways and is based on a shared belief in the power of recovery through sport.
One former athlete to have benefitted from the PiP is current Paralympian and Help for Heroes athlete Scott Meenagh who got his first taste of winter sport in Sochi as part of the programme and is now the first athlete to represent Para Nordic skiing in 20 years.
Jayne Kavanagh, Help for Heroes Performance Pathway Manager said: “Sport plays a big part in the recovery journey for our Veterans and Service Personnel who have been wounded, injured or sick as a result of their service. It gives them a second chance at life and enables them to regain their purpose and sense of confidence.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to work in partnership with the BPA to deliver this fantastic programme. It is our hope that this experience will inspire and empower our Paralympic Inspiration Programme athletes to dedicate themselves to their training in order to achieve their dreams of competing in future summer and winter Paralympic Games.
“We encourage anyone that might want to try sport for the first time post injury to be inspired by these athletes and they too could experience the power of sport in their day to day lives.”
Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive of the BPA, said: “At PyeongChang 2018 we will have four alumni of the Paralympic Inspiration Programme competing at their first Paralympic Games. I’m delighted to see this initiative continue as we know what a valuable opportunity for learning this experience provides to aspiring athletes. We want them to feel motivated from their time in PyeongChang and to leave the Games with the understanding of what they need to do to achieve their own individual goals in sport.
“I would also like to thank Help for Heroes for their invaluable contribution to the PyeongChang Programme to provide athletes with the opportunity to benefit from this experience.”