Sophie Carrigill, a record-breaking 11 days in Rio

A first feature for new TUBPodcast contributor Zoe Shackleton. A real sports fanatic, Zoe will be writing fortnightly features on key personnel in women’s hoops and wheelchair basketball. You can read more of Zoe’s work here.

The end of the Paralympics marked a record-breaking 11 days in Rio for the Great British athletes.

With a medal haul of 147, boasting 64 golds, 39 silvers, and 44 bronzes, Great Britain finished the summer second on the medal table following its most successful games since 1988.

And despite not winning a medal, the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team broke their own record.

Finishing fourth marked the women’s best ever result at a Paralympics, and with their youngest side to date, the belief they can one day secure a medal is stronger than ever.

Sophie Carrigill, co-captain of the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team, said: “The experience itself was incredible; I still can’t believe it has happened and that it is over. It has just made me even more motivated for the next four years and preparing for Tokyo.”

Sophie had trained relentlessly over the past three years in preparation for Rio. Training began months before the competition, with successful tournaments helping the women strengthen the squad.

For Sophie, there was an added pressure as her training was brought to a halt at the beginning of the year. A twisted bowel meant she had to have an emergency operation and was hospitalised for two weeks. It was a slow recovery process, one that almost saw her miss out on her dream.

“The most frustrating thing was taking it slow when I started back because we didn’t want to risk any further injuries,” she said.

Her journey to this point began six years ago when she was in a life-threatening car accident. When most people would have given up, Sophie used her accident to inspire a nation – the same determination that meant she did not let her operation obstruct her path to the Paralympics.

“It was definitely a worrying time for me as for the past three years of my life I wanted to go to the Paralympics and I thought that chance might have been taken away from me.

“But I was really looked after by our sports science team, they put together a great rehab programme, which got me back to being even fitter than I was before the surgery,” said Sophie.

Sophie’s strength and courage was rewarded when she was granted the co-captaincy.

The women’s campaign started on September 8 where they faced Canada, the world’s best. The girls eventually went down 36-43, but not without a fight. Amy Conroy and Helen Freeman racked up 14 points each in a game that showed great promise, despite the result.

They took those positives and recorded a comprehensive 79-20 win over Argentina in the next game, which saw Katie Morrow put 16 points on the board and Freeman contribute another 14, to set up an enticing clash with reigning Paralympics champions Germany.

“We played so well and as a team, we stuck to the game plan and really executed it. We knew we needed to win that game to give ourselves a chance so to get the result was massively important,” Sophie said after the match with the Germans.

Beating Germany 50-45, they went on to defeat the tournament hosts Brazil, 63-32 to guarantee a quarter-final match against China. They were on a mission and hungry for success. Freeman notched almost half the points in the quarter-final, scoring a huge 24 points out of the 57 that secured the victory over China’s 38.

No women’s team has ever managed to reach a semi-final before, so it was a momentous occasion for everyone. The USA had to score 89 points to eventually beat Great Britain. “Even though we lost that game, it was still one of the best,” said Sophie.

“We played out of our skin, but so did the USA, they had to score 89 points to beat us because we were doing so well. That game made me so proud of the girls even though it was a loss.”

And the girls can be extremely proud of their achievement – their best finish in a Paralympic Games to date.

“We have proved to the world that we are ready to compete with the best and we will only be getting better over the next few years.

“Our team is so young and we have got so much potential. Yes, it is disappointing to not get the medal but we have made history in coming fourth so we are still so proud of ourselves for doing that,” said Sophie.

“It will always be an honour to captain the team, the girls are amazing and we have had such a great experience together. The team is 12 players and we know we can pick any of those players and they will give a great performance, everyone has had defining moments whilst playing.”

Author: Zoe Shackleton
Image: C.Cox