RACHEL Morris, Farnham’s very own double-Paralympic champion, has spoken of how her ‘greatest ever challenge’ still lies ahead - with the newly crowned World Rowing Para-Rower of the Year set to undergo major surgery this week.
The Rio 2016 arms-shoulders single scull gold medallist injured her right shoulder when she was hit by a car during a hand-cycling event on the A31 in the build-up to the 2012 London Games, and has struggled with injury ever since.
Remarkably, she came back from the 2012 crash to win a hand-cycling bronze at London, adding to the gold she won in the same event in Beijing four years earlier. But in doing so, Rachel over-compensated for her injury and strained the muscles in her left shoulder.
A freak accident, slipping as she exited her car, then tore muscles in her left shoulder, and after switching sports to rowing in 2013, Rachel underwent shoulder surgery in the build-up to Rio 2016 to see her through the Games.
She famously went on to win the arms-shoulders single sculls in dramatic fashion at Lagoa, recovering from fourth position at the half-way mark of the final to fight her way through the field and take gold in a time of 5mins13.69secs.
And this week she was named Para-Rower of the Year by rowing’s international federation World Rowing (FISA), capping an extraordinary 2016 for the 37-year-old.
However, with the next Paralympics still three and a half years away, Rachel will now undergo major surgery on both shoulders – with the first procedure set to take place today (Thursday) and the second to follow eight weeks later – in an attempt to solve her injury problems for good.
“My life is about to fall apart, literally,” she told the Herald this week. “After surgery, I’ll lose all of my independence – I can’t do anything, I can’t transfer (from a wheelchair), I can’t drive for five months, it’s going to be a nightmare, and obviously I’ll lose all my fitness.
“But hopefully it means I’ll be a lot stronger in the future going forward, and my goal is to get back training for Tokyo 2020 as soon as possible.
“The surgery before Rio was just a patch-up to get me to the Games, and initially my doctors didn’t think I’d be strong enough to get to Rio because there was so much damage in my shoulders, which had almost ruptured on both sides.
“It was a big thing just getting through that point. But going forward, I can’t train on them as they are. They are just too painful and if I carry on they will rupture at some point, and then I’ll be in a much worse condition.”
Rachel said that, as a wheelchair user, she uses her arms constantly for mobility, as well as competing on the water and training on her hand-cycling bike, and this places a lot of strain on her shoulders.
“Your arms aren’t designed to do what I do with them and it’s combination of factors that has put me in this position,” she continued.
“My rehab will require six weeks with my arms in a sling, not able to do anything at all with them, so it will be the world of a power-chair for three months and doing literally nothing. That’s going to be very difficult because I’m usually out all the time training.
“It’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, coming back from this, and many athletes don’t come back from it. But whenever I’ve been told in the past I won’t do something, that’s always given me even more determination that I will do it.
“I will come back from this. It’s going to be a seriously arduous process, but my goal is to get back training for Tokyo 2020, and to get back into the GB rowing squad.”