Parath­lete Jo But­ter­field on her sport­ing life

on turn­ing her life around after an op left her paral­ysed from the chest down

TV Times - - News - Judy Ewens

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.

Jo But­ter­field

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?

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