Josie Pearson switches from discus to cycling to keep 2016 Paralympic dream alive

Josie Pearson switches from discus to cycling to keep 2016 Paralympic dream alive

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"The next 500-plus days are going to very interesting - they're going to be really hard but I'm just going to do everything in my power to ensure that I perform at my best and that I can do my country proud again."

In 2014 Paralympian Josie Pearson was looking ahead to Rio as a track and field athlete, having won gold and broken the F51 discus at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Then a restructure of the Paralympic programme for 2016 looked to put an end to the 29-year-old’s dream of competing in her third successive Games, Pearson having represented Great Britain in wheelchair rugby in Beijing.

But a try-out as a hand cyclist through the talent transfer programme has started a new chapter for the woman from Hay-on-Wye as she joins British Cycling’s Paralympic Podium Programme.

"They asked me would I be interested in trying hand cycling and I immediately thought I'd love to try it - it was almost like my silver lining to the black cloud that had been,” said Pearson.

"Before I'd thought, 'Am I going to continue to train for Rio? Am I going to carry on training at the club?'"

From an early age, sport has been part of Pearson’s life, a keen show jumper before a head-on car collision in 2003 left her with a broken neck and spinal damage, resulting in paralysis in her legs.

Despite a desire to continue riding, Pearson realised that her options were limited and began training as a wheelchair racer.

During her rehabilitation, she was introduced to wheelchair rugby, a move that resulted in her selection for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, where she became the first woman to compete in the sport for her country at the Games.

Pearson went back to wheelchair racing after Beijing but her results were disappointing, leading to a switch to the throwing events. It was an auspicious move that led to her winning gold and breaking the F51 world record in London.

So with a proven track record of rising to new challenges, a move to the Great Britain Para-cycling Team - a squad with a pedigree of working with athletes from other sports - Pearson’s integration with the squad looks to be an ideal synergy.

Jon Norfolk, head coach for the Great Britain Para-cycling Team said:

"We're delighted to welcome Josie onto the British Cycling Paralympic Podium Programme. As a Paralympic and world champion in athletics, Josie already possess the attributes it takes to be a world-class athlete and we're looking forward to working with her to help her continue her successful sporting career as we head towards Rio."

And Pearson is equally excited about joining the team.

"They're used to that transfer,” she said.

"I train to win and that's what British Cycling is about - they select their athletes by gold medals not by if they're going to place, so I think we we’re both very much on the same page in that respect.”

The camaraderie within the close-knit squad is something that Pearson is relishing as she begins her preparations for the coming road season, which begins in June with the first round of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Italy.

"It's a much smaller squad than what I'm used to,” said Pearson, used to the large multi-discipline athletics set-up.

“It's quite nice to come to a squad that's closer and tight-knit. They support each other. Even though you're an individual athlete on the track or the road, there's very much a team atmosphere behind the scenes.”

Despite her previous success, Pearson is realistic about the hard work ahead and her expectations for the world cup in Maniago on 5-7 June.

“I'm going to be internationally classified and I'll race there as well,” said Pearson.

"It's a quick turnaround and I think at that competition I'm not expecting to do amazingly well but it's just about getting on the competitive ladder - you've got to start somewhere.”

And Pearson, who received an MBE in 2013, knows that hard work, not past honours, will be the key to unlocking the Rio dream that a year ago seemed lost.

“I'm under no illusion that this is going to be an easy ride whatsoever - I've given myself quite a challenge with just over 500 days to go but I'm going to give it my best shot,” she said.

"I know physically what I'm capable of and I know for a fact that I'm going to give this 100 percent dedication and commitment.

"I've already got an amazing support network behind me from British Cycling, from UK Sport from Sport Wales - with that sort of support network behind me the sky's the limit."