Paralympic University Students have Sights set on Next Games

Phoebe Pine - credit ParalympicsGB
Student Phoebe Pine with her medal. Photo credit: ParalympicsGB

Following a triumphant return from Tokyo, they have been reflecting on their success and ambition to compete in Paris in three years’ time.

Current third year student Phoebe Paterson Pine took gold in the archery winning the women’s individual compound open, while Education student Rebecca Redfern successfully defended her silver medal from Rio in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB13. Sports graduate Giedre Rakauskaite also celebrated a gold medal as part of the British PR3 mixed coxed four.

Phoebe Paterson Pine:

Sports Coaching Science student Phoebe took gold in her first Paralympics this summer in Tokyo and is now already looking to Paris 2024. “I’m taking each tournament as it comes and will continue to work as hard as I can to continue achieving my goals,” she said.

Reflecting on her success, Phoebe said: “I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to this point in my career, I didn’t expect to get to this point so soon but I’m still very proud of myself for all of the hard work I’ve put in and to see the reward from all the sacrifices I’ve had to make in order to perform. I think being Paralympic Champion will give me the confidence boost I need as being a disabled person we, as a minority group, don’t always fit into society and I feel that this medal will show that even though I am disabled I can still achieve big things! The biggest thing I’ll take from Tokyo is that I, as an athlete, am truly capable of achieving anything and that all I need to do is believe in myself to achieve my dreams and unlock my true potential.”

For Phoebe, the pandemic came at an opportune time giving her more time to prepare, but still proved very challenging.

Phoebe needed surgery for a bone infection in her right heel bone in 2018 and was unable to shoot from May through to September. This affected her confidence going into 2019, where she was due to be competing for a place at the Games, but did not win a spot at the quota tournament that year. However, due to Covid-19, she was able to rest and train to then compete in the final chance quota tournament this summer, where she did win a spot on the plane to Tokyo.

“The pandemic was an incredibly tough experience for everyone, but it enabled some athletes to have more time to prepare,” she said. “The time that I was given enabled me to become more physically and emotionally prepared for the Paralympic Games.”

Phoebe praised the University’s support in her journey to the Games. “The University have been very supportive of my career since I started in 2017. Glyn Harding [Lecturer] has been particularly instrumental in supporting me in balancing my archery and my studies. He has been able to help me with timetable issues and give me extra support when I’ve had to miss classes due to training.”

Becky Redfern

Becky Redfern:

Primary Initial Teacher Education student Becky has been enjoying some time off since the Games and is now taking on a postponed 12-week placement working in a school in order to complete her degree. She said her plan long-term is to work towards a third Paralympic Games.

In a race that went down to the wire, she finished in a time of 1:14.10. She said: “Looking back, I am so proud of myself for getting through the last 18 months the way I have done and to have brought back a silver medal has been the icing on the cake, I couldn’t be happier.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and knock-on effect on the Games was to prove the difference between Becky making the starting block and not.

Becky, who gave birth to a son, Patrick, in July 2020, said: “It feels quite surreal, had they have been last year I wouldn’t have been able to go so it almost doesn’t feel real that I was there but also that I came away with my second Paralympic silver medal. When I found out I was pregnant I had to come to terms with my swimming career coming to an end and missing out on the Tokyo Games.” Then the Games were postponed due to Covid-19. “I got back in the water eight weeks post birth and made the decision that I wanted to try my best to get to the games. It felt as if they had been delayed for me, they were waiting for me to compete, so I had to at least try,” she added.

Becky managed to get a hot tub to train in when pools were closed. “I was literally swimming in my garden and doing gym sessions in a shed,” she said. “Trying to balance this training, Uni lectures and being a new mum was really tough, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family around me. I think, in a way, the circumstances helped me to juggle everything because I was home for it all. The hardest thing that I have had to overcome has been the lack of recovery time between training sessions - Patrick is still up a few times during the night so a full night’s sleep is non-existent.”

Becky added: “Over the past three years that I have spent at the University of Worcester they have been so understanding of the level of commitment I have towards my sport. They have helped me to manage my time and suggested ways to prioritise the important things. They have been very understanding if I had been unable to make a lecture due to a training clash.”


Giedre Rakauskaite

Giedre Rakauskaite:

For Sports Coaching Science graduate Giedre, thoughts are already turning to the next Paralympic Games.

“I think it's safe to say that I still need a break from rowing, need time for my body to recover,” she said. “I haven't seen my family yet so I’m more focussed on that. However, I have already been in the gym and on the bike. Paris 2024 is very close actually, and I think I would like to give it another go. Also, I would like the ability to enjoy the Games post the finals, and have the ability to watch and support the rest of Paralympics GB.”

Giedre celebrated with her fellow GB teammates after they crossed the line in 6:49.24, an impressive 11 seconds ahead of the next boat.

“I felt incredibly relieved and excited that we managed to achieve what we set out for, with another dominant performance,” she said. “I'm even more proud of the team. It was one of the toughest years running into the games, took a lot of mental strength, and I know now we are all better for it.”

She said, as a coach who wants to carry on in that career, she hopes her status as a gold medal-winning Paralympian might open a few more doors in the industry.

Reflecting on what qualities, physical and mental, she thinks have made her a Paralympic rower, Giedre said: “It’s your own belief that this is the right path for you. It has to be so strong that no-one can change your mind and, trust me, there are a lot of people who will plant doubt in your mind. And be very patient. A lot of things won’t go how you planned it to be. My rowing strength is that when I am in the pain cave during a test, I'm not scared of it. Go above it and embrace it.”

Studying at the University of Worcester Giedre said had been a “big game changer” for her. “As well as education, I met a lot of people with a similar mindset, ambition and attitude, which helped me fit in,” she added. “Standing on my own, with my parents’ support, has definitely given me a lot of confidence.”

After graduating Giedre went onto the role of Head Coach at Hereford Cathedral School for four years. After moving to Henley-on-Thames as a fully funded athlete, she continued working alongside at RGS High Wycombe as an assistant coach for a few more years. For the last year leading up to the Games, she took a break to entirely focus on her training.