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Holloway students gain three Paralympic golds

Sophie, who went into the games ranked world number one for Paralympic equestrian dressage, won two Golds: one in the Individual Freestyle Test Grade IA event and the second, debuting in the equestrian team event with her fellow riders Anne Dunham, Lee Pearson and Simon Laurens. She then continued her success gaining a Silver medal in the Individual Test.

The results at Beijing display that Christiansen, who secured Individual Bronze despite being, at 16, the youngest member of Team GBR in Athens, is a woman maturing to the peak of international competition. I

In 2004 she was named BBC London Disabled Athlete of the Year, in 2005 she won treble Gold at the European Para-dressage Championships and last year at the World Championships in Hartpury she came away with Individual Gold and Bronze medals. It seems that her previous horse Hotstuff also transferred his namesake to his rider.

The Royal Holloway STARs athlete commented on the teams webpage that she loves ‘being on a horse because the horse moves for me and I feel free’. Christiansen, who began riding at the age of six before being talent-spotted by her trainer Clive Mulkins, suffers from cerebral palsy. The non-progressive disorder affects all of the sufferer’s muscles which means, that despite being one of the few grade 1 riders who is not wheelchair-bound, she is still a Grade 1 competitor, the level of the most disabled Paralympians.

Sophie admits that ‘trying to sit up straight on a horse is a challenge for me and I have to do special exercises for my core stability’; yet this does not stop her grilling training schedule.

The Beijing Paralympics introduced rowing as a Paralympic sport which allowed 28 year old Holloway graduate Helene Raynsford to become the first Gold winner in the arms-only single sculls event. Helene is not a stranger to rowing firsts, just two years ago, at the Rowing World Championships she became the first ever world record holder and world champion of the womenÂ’s arms-only single scull event.

‘If they say it can not be done, it is only because it has not been done before’ is the motto espoused on Raynsford’s website, and the BBC South Sports Woman of the Year 2006 truly embodies the phrase. As a teenager she was accepted into the Royal Ballet, but after unfixable foot problems she accepted a place at RHUL.

Whilst at university she suffered a brain injury and lost the use of her legs; she finished her degree and began to play wheelchair basketball for which she won two silver medals for the British Paralympic team.

Her career propelled further in 2005 when she began to row and now, barely three years later, she holds Paralympic Gold. ‘After my first race I was hooked, even though I couldn’t move for a week’ claims Raynsford on her website.

Aside from rowing Helene has a career in Public Health and works for the Youth Sport Trust as an Athlete Mentor helping to re-engage young people in education.

It is clear that she knows she may be viewed as a role model, and in an interview for the BBC she offers the following advice: ‘Always challenge people’s perceptions and beliefs of what you can do. Straight after my accident they believed I wouldn’t be able to go back to living independently, but it was the complete opposite.’

Understanding that she is far from the average student Raynsford reassures us that: ‘I’m just little old me. I also do many silly things, like tip myself out of my chair’.

After finishing her race 12 seconds ahead of the Silver medallist, Liudmila Vauchok from Belarus, Helene said: ‘It’s absolutely amazing and I still can’t really believe it and I’m proud to be part of the best team in the world’. Yes, she is far from average.

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