Now the dust has settled from a wonderful Paralympics campaign for the British women, there is a focus for those who missed out on this year’s squad for Rio 2016. Having already got a European Championship under her belt, Siobhan Fitzpatrick, at just 18 years old, has achieved so much at a young age, but has her sights firmly set on Tokyo 2020.
Siobhan narrowly missed out on a place in Rio, but trained with the squad throughout the summer as a reserve. She travelled with the team to the pre-tournament trips in Canada, Japan and Germany, and co-captained the U25s at the European Championships in May. The squad accomplished their first ever victory at the event, coming from 20 points down in the final against Germany to win 42-51. That experience, alongside training with the Rio squad, made her more determined to make it to Tokyo.
“It gives you more of an insight of what it takes to get to that level, when you look at the senior game it is a completely different level. You have more motivation to give that extra 100% to put yourself in a better position,” she commented on her training over summer.
“We took a very inexperienced team [to the U25 championships]. We were down by 20 points in the first half of the final, we were the underdogs and Germany have always been the team to beat. We managed to flick the switch and turn it around. It just showed that the junior team have got a chance [of making the senior team],” she added.
And although the Paralympics have barely finished, it will not be long before we are sitting down to watch Tokyo host the games, and after a short break, the athletes will already be preparing for the next four years of training.
The 18-year-old recently moved to Worcester for university, which is where the wheelchair basketball programme is centralised. This move has made it more convenient for training, which has in turn improved her game drastically.
“It helps being in Worcester. We have the centralised programme here and without having to travel to training, it makes it a lot easier. The Rio team are here on a daily basis and having the girls here has made the transition a lot easier.
“If you have a bad session, whereas before I wouldn’t come back for a few days because of the travel, I now come back the day after or in the evening so I am constantly seeing improvement,” she said.
Not only does Siobhan have training twice a day, but she has to tackle university alongside developing her game to make it to Tokyo – it is nothing she can’t handle after a handful of junior honours. She captained both Coventry and West Midlands to consecutive gold medals at the Lord Taverners Championships, as well as representing her country twice at U25 level at the European Championships, gaining one silver and one gold medal. Siobhan described how she was first introduced to the sport, aged 12.
“I wasn’t allowed to do sport in school at all, so they organised for me to go to an event called Playground to Podium, which showcases a range of Paralympic sports, and basketball was the one I enjoyed the most,” she said.
Being given that opportunity sparked an incredible journey of success for Siobhan, and she feels now, more than ever, is the best time to be challenging for a spot in the senior squad.
“I don’t think the backbone of the team will change [for Tokyo]. But a couple of positions will be a lot more competitive. Spots in the squad might not be guaranteed,” Siobhan said.
“There are juniors coming through who have that spark for the game. There’s a lot of enthusiasm, which will make the decision a lot tougher.”
With the game already going from strength to strength after the women achieved their highest ever finish at a Paralympic games this year, there will be no stopping Siobhan in her quest to represent her country in 2020.
Author: Zoe Shackleton
Image: British Wheelchair Basketball