Manchester United fan and double Paralympic medallist Charlotte Henshaw talks to Rollin’s Reds about her latest achievements
in disabled sport…
Amazing! The games got a lot of negative press beforehand so the athletes were very sceptical about whether the Brazilians could pull it off but the crowds were amazing and that really made it for me. Performance wise, I wasn’t particularly happy with my time but the event has moved on so much that it was a lot harder to get a medal-winning time.
RR: But you picked up a medal…
Yes! And I’m nearly 30 so to be on the podium with a people who are much younger than me is something that I’m really happy about. My event has moved on so much in the Paralympics. The time I achieved to win bronze in Rio is two seconds quicker than the gold medal was won in London four years ago.
RR: Was this your third Paralympics?
Yes — I was at Beijing in 2008 where I came fourth, and London 2012 where I came second to win silver. That was a really close race — I was just three-thousandths of a second away from winning gold — 0.003 — it’s almost impossible to measure!
RR: What is your event?
I do the 100m breast stroke (SB6) — it’s mainly for lower-leg impaired athletes and in comparison to the able-bodied athletes, they’re world-record times are around 30 seconds quicker than ours.
RR: Are your medals on display at home?
No, but I take them around with me because I do a lot of school visits and talks — so the medals kind of live in my bag most of the time but lots of people see them, so in a way, they are on display.
RR: How did you get into disabled sport?
My parents took me to a multi-sports event when I was nine and I met a Paralympic medallist and she showed me her medal which blew me away. I knew from then what I wanted to do so it can be really powerful and I hope to inspire kids in the same way.
RR: Did you get much chance to explore Brazil?
None at all! The Paralympics runs for 10 days and my event was on day eight but we all try to stay focused. I didn’t spend much time at the event venue — I stayed back at the village training at a different pool. As a team, we made a pact that once your event has finished you go along an support your teammates. So I only got to see bits of Rio from the bus window, going to and from the venue and the Maracana stadium for the closing ceremony.
RR: What will be your best memories of Rio2016?
I think I took in a lot more this time. Beijing 2008 was my first Paralympics and a bit of a blur, London 2012 I loved but the pressure made that blurry as well. So this time I’ve made sure I savoured the atmosphere because at nearly 30, I’m into the latter stages of my career. I’m very privileged to have done it three times and I don’t know whether I’ll get to go to Tokyo for the 2020 games.
RR: Are you a full-time athlete?
Yes I am, and we’re very lucky — the ones of us who get support from the National Lottery to allow us to do this as a job. I’m always looking for other opportunities to better myself after this, though, because I don’t want to be in a position where I come away from sport and don’t know what to do.
RR: So what’s training like for you?
Six days a week with Sundays off, eight pool sessions, two gym sessions, lots of physiotherapy, psychological support and nutrition work — it’s a real team effort. It’s a strict diet — we always joke that swimmers do two things very well — swimming and eating. We seem to eat more than everyone else but that’s just because of the energy we burn.
RR: What sort of characteristics do you need to succeed in sport?
The same ones you need to be successful at anything — inner drive and determination, grit and determination so that if someone throws a barrier in your way or makes it difficult for you to do something, you’ve got to want to find a way over it, round it, under it — whatever it takes to succeed, and my parents instilled that in me when I was very young.
RR: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get involved?
For young kids it’s about exploring opportunities and asking questions — that’s very important. If there isn’t an opportunity for you — why isn’t there? If there is something you want to do somewhere — how can you get access to that? Get people to help you, check online or ask at school. You could ask an athlete on Twitter or Facebook. It’s about determination — if you want to do something, you have to find a way and people will help you.
RR: How has sport changed your life?
It’s probably changed me more than I realise. It’s given me lot of confidence in my own ability and others’ ability. It’s made me see the person before the disability because I see so many impairments and those people are just like me — they were told they couldn’t do something and they’re doing it. So it’s given me an insight into what human character is and when I step away from all this I think it will really be brought home to me just what sport has given me because I’ve been doing it for so long.
RR: What will you do after sport?
I don’t think I’ll coach because I know what I put my coach though and I don’t think I could handle it. I’d love to stay involved with the Paralympic movement though to make sure it gets the recognition it deserves and that it gets support at the grass roots level so it can continue in the same way that able-bodied sport does.