Parathlete Jo Butterfield on her sporting life
on turning her life around after an op left her paralysed from the chest down
Six years ago, Jo Butterfield was told she would never walk again after an operation to remove a tumour from her spinal cord left her paralysed from the chest down.
Doncaster-born Jo, now 38, dealt with the devastating blow with true Yorkshire grit. ‘I thought, “I can’t make myself unparalysed. But I can make sure I make the most of my life,” ’ she says.
While in rehabilitation at a spinal unit, Jo was introduced to wheelchair rugby. ‘When you are in a wheelchair, you are told you can’t do this and you can’t do that, and then you’re put in a rugby chair and told you can hit someone! It made me realise you can still have fun.’
While playing for a local team in Glasgow, Jo was invited to a try-out day run by Scottish Athletics where she showed an immediate aptitude for the discus. Now a full-time athlete who competes in the club and discus throw, Jo won gold at the 2016 Paralympics and is also the current World Champion. She will be defending her title this month at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London.
Here, Jo speaks to us just before heading off to collect her MBE for services to field athletics…
Congrats on your MBE, Jo! Thank you. I’m looking forward to it – I get to meet the Queen and I get a nice day off from training!
When you had an operation in 2011 did you have any idea that it might leave you unable to walk? The doctor said there was a 0.01 per cent chance I could be paralysed, which was tiny. After the operation, he asked me to move my legs and I didn’t realise I hadn’t moved them until there were a number of people around my bed. I realised then something was not quite right.
I didn’t know exactly what was wrong or all the ramifications, but I knew that it was pretty serious.
How did being paralysed from the waist down change your life? I lived in a top-floor flat, so I had to get a new home. I had to get an automatic car. I had to learn how to get dressed again. I was able to go back to my job at the MOD doing career management for soldiers, but after a couple of years I was medically retired. It was a high-level job and it was difficult to do it to the same degree that I wanted to. But sport was also becoming more important to me and I had to make a choice.
What impact has sport had on your life since the operation? It has given me a real reason to keep going, an opportunity to live again, to travel the world, to meet people and realise that
I can do stuff.
I was told time and time again, ‘you can’t do this anymore, you can’t do that,’ whereas with sport I can do things. I have achieved so much, things that people never believed I would be able to do.
You Twitter handle is @Jo_shuni – where does Shuni come from? It is my middle name. It means fortunate. My parents had a little girl who died before I was born. A year later I was born and they felt fortunate to have another girl.
I have achieved so much, things that people never believed
I would be able to do
And do you feel like you have been fortunate?
I will never be thankful for being in a wheelchair, but the experiences I have had because of it have been amazing, and I am extremely thankful for that. world para athletics
championships is previewed on
it’s day two of the Championships and all eyes will be on double Paralympic champion Richard Whitehead in the T42 200m. He’s recently talked about the possibility of retiring – could this summer be his last hurrah? Also tonight, Hollie Arnold aims to keep hold of her world title in the F46 javelin, and Jo Butterfield competes in the F51 discus.
Para athletics champion Jo picked up gold in the club throw at the Paralympic Games in Rio last year
Jo threw a new European record in 2014
Can gold star Richard Whitehead
do it again?