ATHLETE Rachel Morris capped a golden week for the area’s Paralympians on Sunday as she stormed to victory in the arms-shoulders single sculls to secure an incredible second gold medal in as many sports.
Rachel, 37, from Farnham, who only took up rowing in 2013, set a new Paralympic best time of five minutes 13.69 seconds over the 1,000m course at the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon – watched by her mum and overlooked by the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer – to finish a boat length ahead of China’s Lili Wang in the silver medal position and Israel’s Moran Samuel in bronze.
It takes her total Paralympic medal tally to three, adding to the hand-cycling gold she won at Beijing in 2008 and the bronze at London 2012, the latter just weeks after a car hit her racing bike during an event on the A31 near Bentley.
Speaking to The Herald from Rio, Rachel said: “Honestly, it feels so surreal [to be a double Paralympic champion]. I just wrote it in a text to somebody and thought ‘that’s absolutely nuts’ – to come and win another gold medal in a different sport is quite a hard thing to do and I’m on cloud nine, it’s amazing.”
As the final unfolded on Sunday, Rachel sat in fourth place at the halfway point. But she stuck to her race plan and came roaring back in the final 500m to overtake leader Wang and win by a comfortable three seconds.
She continued: “When you’re in the race, you really can’t tell how much of a lead you have, if any at all, so I was really surprised by the amount I won by in the end after coming back on the Chinese girl.
“It feels very different to my last two Paralympics, and it feels like a much more emotional medal. Making the British rowing squad is so hard and I think probably even I underestimated how hard it would be. So there was a lot more riding on it for me as an athlete and for me personally as well.
“Compared to my first Games in 2008 and the crash in 2012, this Games was absolutely textbook, and if you can ever have a perfect race, Sunday was it.
“But I’m still carrying a massive injury in my shoulder, so it has been a very hard thing to get to the finish line, and that’s definitely testament to the incredible support staff I’ve got. They’ve been amazing.”
Rachel, who will be 41 at the end of the next four-year Paralympic cycle, is wary of rushing a decision on whether or not to come back for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. However, she has hinted that she still feels she has a lot to offer the sport and Team GB.
“Once every four years you have a chance to feel that absolute elation and when you’re on that high it’s easy to make slightly irrational decisions,” she said.
“But I don’t feel like I’ve been able to give my best to rowing yet and I feel like I’m still on an upward trajectory, so the chances are I’m not ready to walk away yet.”
She has enjoyed some down time in the days since her victory, appearing alongside her triumphant GB rowing teammates in the audience of Channel 4’s The Last Leg comedy series and even taking a dip in the sea off Ipanema beach.
She added: “It’s such a relief, and it’s only when you get that point after your race that you realise just how much pressure you were under. We’ve been waking up at 3am every morning for training and I had an absolute panic that I’d missed the bus when I woke up the morning after my race because it was light outside!
“To be a part of a team that’s broken so many records and won all the medals that we’ve got is just incredible. It is a massive set up and something I’m really proud to be part of and to have been a product of.
“I hope the medals are also a just reward for all the people who have invested in us through the National Lottery. Without the people who buy the tickets, we wouldn’t be able to train full time and we wouldn’t be able to deliver these results.”
As if one double Paralympic champion wasn’t enough, the Farnham area now boasts two after Binsted’s Georgie Hermitage also won gold medals in the T37 100m and 400m events this week – setting two new world records in the process.
The 27-year-old mum of one missed out on the chance to seal her hat-trick in the T35-38 4x100m relay final on Thursday, when the Team GB quartet were edged out into the silver medal position.
But there was no place for Liphook sprinter Olivia Breen who, competing in her second Paralympic Games aged just 20, finished an impressive seventh place in the T38 100m final last Friday followed by 12th in the T38 long jump on Sunday.
Kylie Grimes, from Farnham, also competed in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday in the F51 women’s club throw, finishing just outside the medal places in fourth having represented GB at London 2012 in the wheelchair rugby. She is now targeting a top-three finish at the London 2017 World ParaAthletics Championships next summer.