Team South Africa’s Emily Gray, doesn’t want to make bold statements about winning a medal at the Rio Paralympics, but she certainly didn’t go to Rio simply to sign an attendance list.
‘It’s the third time I’m representing South Africa at the Paralympic Games. When I competed in Beijing in 2008 it was just a case of getting to tick the “box”. In London, my goal was to reach at least one final, which I did. Who knows, maybe this time I might get close to winning a medal. I am certainly motivated because I think this will probably be my last Paralympic Games,’ said the Tuks/HPC swimmer whose favourite events are the 400-metre freestyle and 100m-backstroke.
At the 2015 World Championships she finished fifth in the 400-freestyle final and was seventh in the backstroke final.
Gray lost her left leg to cancer before she was a teenager and a quote by Dr. Seuss helps to keep her motivated. ‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go…’
She emphasises that being a competitive swimmer goes hand in hand with big personal sacrifices but she makes sure that it never gets to her.
‘It’s important to never stop having fun, even if you are struggling to cope for various reasons. Swimming for me is a tool I use to break away from my disability. Water essentially gives me a feeling of freedom of movement. I swim because I want to become the best possible version of myself.’
Gray said she was always an active person. Competing in middle distance races used to be her thing. ‘For me running came totally naturally. I also loved to surf and enjoyed backpacking and walking in the mountains, but then life threw me a totally unexpected ‘curveball’.
‘I started to feel this aching pain in my hip. At first it didn’t worry me too much, but when the pain worsened I went to see a doctor. The initial diagnosis was that I suffered from a soft tissue injury brought on by running. Later it was diagnosed as an osteosarcoma (a type of cancer).
‘Because the chemo wasn’t reducing the cancer I was faced with the decision whether to lose my leg or my life. The magnitude of this type of decision is obviously indescribable. But to this day I would still make the same decision I made when I was 11. I don’t regret it one bit.
Gray has her mind set on studying medicine in the foreseeable future. Another big dream is to become an ambassador for amputees worldwide.
‘I would love to inspire the next generation of swimmers, especially the disabled girls. Swimming is an extremely tough sport in which little or no money can be won and with only a few support systems in place.
‘Although you have to make innumerable sacrifices, it’s well worth it in the long run,’ said the Tuks/HPC swimmer.
Picture of Gray courtesy of Gallo Images