THE DREAM of a gold-winning disabled athlete from Rugby will move closer to reality when she travels to South Korea with the Team GB squad during the Winter Paralympics.
Dr Jen Warren, 37, will travel to PyeongChang to experience the Paralympic Inspiration Programme (PiP), a partnership between the British Paralympic Association (BPA) and Help for Heroes.
The former army major, who works at University Hospital Coventry (UHC), won nine medals at the Invictus Games – a Paralympic-style tournament for wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans – in Toronto last September.
Jen, who lives in Rugby with her husband Jon and three-year-old daughter Sally, predominantly uses a wheelchair after a 2008 skiing accident left her with severe nerve injuries which affected her ability to use her left leg.
She came home from Toronto with two golds, six silvers and a bronze in handcycling, wheelchair racing and swimming – and now has her sights set on a future place in the Paralympic squad.
She will be one of six military athletes to join the Programme, which gives athletes the opportunity to experience several days at a Paralympic Games to prepare them to participate in a future tournament.
And despite not having been in a canoe since her schooldays, Jen has chosen to concentrate on canoeing.
She was approached by the GB Paracanoe team and invited to a trial day – and says disability taught her never to turn down an opportunity.
She said: “I went along fully expecting to be told ‘thanks, but you’re not what we’re looking for’. To my amazement I was invited back and haven’t looked back.
“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 actually compete. This was an incredibly difficult experience but just motivates me to work harder.
“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.
“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.
“Sport brings so much to my life. It keeps me fit and active which not only helps my physical and mental health but also enables me to look after my daughter with confidence – and keep up with her!”
“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.”
Jayne Kavanagh, Help for Heroes Performance Pathway Manager said: “It is our hope that this experience will inspire and empower our Paralympic Inspiration Programme athletes to achieve their dreams of competing in future 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.”
The Winter Paralympics begin today (Friday March 9) and continue until March 18.