#TuksSwimming: Gray not one to make bold predictions

Posted on September 13, 2016

South African swimmer Emily Gray does not want to make bold predictions about winning a medal at the Paralympic Games, but says she certainly did not go to Rio merely to sign an attendance list either.

'This is my third time representing South Africa at the Paralympic Games. When I competed in Beijing in 2008 it was just a case of getting to “tick the box”. In London in 2012 my goal was to reach at least one final, which I did. Who knows, maybe this time I might get close to winning a medal. I am certainly motivated because I think this will probably be my last Paralympic Games,' said the Tuks/hpc swimmer, whose favourite events are the 400 m freestyle and the 100 m backstroke.

At the 2015 World Championships she finished fifth in the 400 m freestyle final and seventh in the backstroke final.

A quote by Dr Seuss helps to keep her motivated: 'You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go…'

She emphasises that being a competitive swimmer carries big personal sacrifices, but she makes sure that it never gets to her. 'It is important never to stop having fun, even if you are struggling to cope for whatever reason. Swimming is a tool I use to break away from my disability. Water gives me a feeling of freedom of movement. I swim because I want to become the best possible version of myself,' she says.

Gray has always been an active person. Competing in middle distance races used to be her favourite activity. 'Running came naturally to me,' she said. 'I also loved to surf and enjoyed backpacking and walking in the mountains, but then life threw me a totally unexpected curveball.'

'I started to feel this aching pain in my hip. At first, it did not worry me too much, but when the pain worsened I went to see a doctor. The initial diagnosis was that I had sustained a soft-tissue injury brought on by running. Later it was diagnosed as an osteosarcoma [a type of cancer]. Because the chemotherapy wasn't reducing the tumour, at the age of 11 I was faced with the decision of whether to lose my leg or my life. The magnitude of this type of decision is obviously indescribable. But to this day I would still make the same decision I made when I was 11. I don't regret it one bit.'

Gray has her mind set on studying medicine in the future. Another big dream is to become a worldwide ambassador for amputees. 'I would love to inspire the next generation of swimmers, especially disabled girls. Swimming is an extremely tough sport in which little to no money can be made and which has very few support systems in place. Although you have to make innumerable sacrifices, it is well worth it in the long run,' she said.


- Author Wilhelm de Swardt

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