PAMELA Relph is the toast of Aylesbury this week after adding a World Championship adaptive rowing gold medal to her amazing fairytale rowing story.
After just eight months in the disability sport, the Weston Turville star – who suffers from a severe form of arthiritus – won gold in Slovenia over the weekend to seal her team’s place at the London Paralympics next summer.
The athlete was rowing in the bow seat of the GB Legs Trunks and Arms Mixed Coxed Four (LTAM4) crew that led from start-to-finish on the 1km course, capturing the gold medal in a time of 3:27.10, nearly five seconds ahead of runners-up Canada.
The victory culminated a dramatic year for Relph who suffers from a debilitating form of arthritis, restricting movement in her lower limbs and wrists.
In the summer of 2010 she was forced to leave the army due to the severe progression of her illness.
However, her sister Monica – a member of the GB able-bodied rowing team – introduced her to the sport where she immediately impressed the national coaches with her strength and mental determination.
“I have always been very sporty and was determined my illness was not going to hold me back in my life” Relph said.
“I needed a focus and a goal after I left the army and I can’t thank my sister enough.
“Not just for the doors she has helped to open for me in rowing, but also all of the coaching sessions we did together, working on my technique.”
The British crew were one of the favourites for a medal in the adaptive event, going into the competition, following their win in the Munich World Cup regatta in the spring.
However, key rivals Canada missed those races, and were very much an unknown quantity going into the World Championships.
“We knew we were flying in training and our heat and semi-final (in Bled) showed that we meant business, but Canada were the reigning World champs and we couldn’t get carried away with ourselves.
“It was a question of executing our race plan in the final, which was to get out hard and fast and pressurise the rest of the field.
“Once we had achieved that, we didn’t want to let up – there was no question of us easing down as we wanted to make a big psychological point to everyone ahead of the Paralympics next year,” said a jubilant Relph.
The World Championship win not only ensures Relph’s Great British boat qualifies for the Paralympic regatta at Dorney Lake next September, but that Great Britain go into the event as red-hot favourites for the best gold medal of them all.