The Daily Telegraph

Truesdale targets gold on her sport’s Paralympic debut

Taekwondo fighter tells Molly Mcelwee that after waiting 11 years to appear on the biggest stage, one more is nothing


Taekwondo can often be about patience, waiting for precisely the right moment to launch a full-extension kick to clinch the win over an opponent. Two-time parataekwo­ndo world champion Amy Truesdale has proved that she has patience in abundance, both on and off the mat.

While most athletes had been waiting four years for the Tokyo Games when they were postponed in March, Truesdale has over a decade under her belt. This year her sport was set to make its debut at the Paralympic­s. It was a goal Truesdale had been hoping for since she competed at her first parataekwo­ndo competitio­n in 2009, and then had been officially working towards after it was added to the Tokyo schedule in 2015.

When coronaviru­s delays put those plans on the back-burner Truesdale, true to form, took the positives of spending the past few months locked down with family instead of poised for Paralympic glory. Besides, she argues, when you have been waiting 11 years, what is another 365 days?

“I suppose I have [waited longer],” Truesdale, 31, laughs. “But when it was announced that it was going to be postponed, I’d sort of already prepared myself. I’m really lucky to have the opportunit­y to better myself for another

‘The whole purpose of the Paralympic­s is it’s meant to be parallel to the Olympics, but some people ask when is it, after the real one? It doesn’t sit well for me’

year. I’ve been in lockdown with my two-year-old nephew. He loved it, he was kicking the pads and doing the shouts. He loves practising with me.

“You’ve got to be positive because if you dwell on it, you’re going to switch off and get a little lazy. I just need to keep that goal in sight really – it’s just another year.”

Truesdale first started taekwondo at her local leisure centre aged eight, but it was not until 12 years later that she was first introduced to para-taekwondo. Up until that point, she had competed and medalled in able-bodied events. Then, her coach was approached about an opportunit­y for her to be classed in a category for athletes with similar arm impairment­s to her own, at an internatio­nal meeting to be hosted in Azerbaijan. Truesdale was sceptical, though.

“At first I read the invitation and was like, I don’t like the way it’s worded – ‘special’ was used – I didn’t like the labelling on it. So I was like, ‘I’m not particular­ly interested.’ When I was younger I didn’t come across anyone else who was a para-athlete, I just did taekwondo – or if you want to call it ablebodied taekwondo – I did that level.”

But the more she found out about the event, set to be the first-ever Para World Championsh­ips backed by World Taekwondo, the more she saw this could be a positive move. The decision to go was life-changing, as she had her eyes opened to disability sport being showcased at a top level for the very first time.

“I thought, this is actually amazing, it’s not me on my own. It was a really special experience. There are so many other people that have probably been in the same position as myself, and I thought it was really good para athletes were getting the recognitio­n we deserved. After that, I was certain I definitely wanted to do it again.”

She won bronze there, and continued to compete internatio­nally, often self-funded while juggling retail work and coaching. In 2016, she was invited to train at the British Taekwondo training base in Manchester for a couple of days a week, and there she saw the Olympic team, including gold medallist Jade Jones, prepare for the Rio Games: “The buzz in the gym was amazing, so I was hanging on to that hope of ‘that could be me one day’.”

She has racked up countless medals and titles during her career, including European champion in 2016 and two-time world gold medallist in 2014 and 2017. That final win helped to secure more funding for the GB para-taekwondo programme, and since 2018 she has trained full-time and bagged her spot on the GB Paralympic­s team for Tokyo.

Paralympic gold is the aim, as the only medal missing in her collection, but she is also intent on another goal: simply showing – on sport’s greatest stage – that Paralympic sport deserves an equal billing.

“I’m really passionate about promoting disability in sport. Even though when I was younger I didn’t class myself as disabled, I obviously knew I was different. I didn’t really have much experience of people putting labels on me, but now I’m an adult and in a Paralympic environmen­t, it’s surprising how many people do put you in a certain category, which has been a shock.

“With the Paralympic­s, the whole purpose of it is it’s meant to be parallel to the Olympics, [but] comments that I have received are like, ‘When is it, after the real one?’ It doesn’t sit well for me. Paralympic or disabled, or whatever term you want to use, those athletes are inspiratio­nal. I want to be the face of para-taekwondo and showcase it, and encourage anyone to take part in sport.”

 ??  ?? Success story: Amy Truesdale won World Championsh­ip gold in 2014 and 2017 but dreams of Paralympic glory
Success story: Amy Truesdale won World Championsh­ip gold in 2014 and 2017 but dreams of Paralympic glory

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