From having her leg amputated to competing in the Tokyo Paralympics, one Perthshire athlete has shown her resilience time and again.
Lesley Stewart of Blairgowrie – who will compete in the shooting event – had a below knee amputation after suffering an injury while serving in the military police in the army in 2004.
The 42-year-old had several operations to try and save her ankle but they were unsuccessful.
Twelve years later, Lesley was on track to compete at the Rio 2016 Paralympics but an infection in her stump forced her to drop out.
She then spent almost a year in hospital where she had a second amputation, this time above the knee.
But now she has come back fighting and, after securing a bronze medal at the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in Lima, Peru, she has won her place at Tokyo.
‘Buzzing with joy’
Lesley’s road to Tokyo has had its fair share of ups and downs, so Paralympian was delighted to learn that she had made it.
She said: “When it was confirmed I was absolutely buzzing with joy. I can’t remember much about the whole day because my emotions were just all over the place.
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The world famous ‘Olympic Way’ will now be known as ‘Paralympic Way’ until our Paralympic heroes are welcomed home by The National Lottery’s Homecoming Party on 12 September.
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“It was a really, really special day. It’s been a long road through injuries. To finally have all my hard work and dedication pay off was unreal.
“There was relief as well but for me to compete at the Paralympics, I can’t even think of the words to describe what that means to me.”
A back injury while serving in the military police, after completing a tour of Iraq the previous year, changed the course of Lesley’s life.
She pulled a back muscle during a routine combat fitness test, something that would go on to affect her ankle.
“All I did was pull a muscle in my back and within a week my left ankle had fully turned inwards,” she said.
“I was in so much pain and nobody could understand what the problem was because I hadn’t hurt my leg. It was my back.
“After a lot of investigating it was eventually discovered that I had dystonia, which basically means that when I pulled the muscle in my back my brain malfunctioned at the same time and it sent the signal to the wrong part of the body.
“Instead of the back going into spasm, the ankle went into permanent spasm.
“That wouldn’t let the ankle release. I had loads of operations to try to save the ankle but unfortunately, they all failed.
“I had a below knee amputation.”
Following the amputation, Lesley began rehabilitation at the military rehabilitation unit, Headley Court.
There, she took up shooting as a sport and her talent for it soon became clear.
After the infection forced her to pull out from Rio 2016, Lesley attended a “make or break” competition in Germany in 2019.
She said: “I went to a competition in Germany in 2019 and that was going to be make or break for my shooting career.
“From that event I was either going to decide that was it finished, or I’m giving this another try.
“I absolutely loved it and I realised how much I missed it. To this day I’m thankful I made that decision.”
The support of her family and her passion for the sport has helped Lesley pull through some tough times.
She said: “Leaving the military through a medical discharge is crushing.
“You’re lost for a while and you wonder what you’re going to do and how you will manage, especially if you leave with a disability that you didn’t go in with.
“My wife Kirsty has been my rock. She’s held me up on my bad days and been there to celebrate my good days.
“As an athlete you make sacrifices, but I don’t think people understand that your family have to make sacrifices too. All my family have sacrificed to help me chase my dream.”
Now I’ve got the chance to represent my country and that is such a huge honour.”
She added: “I served in the military, I’ve had the chance to serve my country and now I’ve got the chance to represent my country and that is such a huge honour.”
Sportscotland performance lifestyle adviser Paula Jarvie, who has worked with Lesley, said: “It’s been a real privilege to support Lesley on this whirlwind journey to Tokyo.
“Continually constructing positive outcomes from the number of setbacks and challenges she has faced, Lesley embodies the true essence of resilience and perseverance in both her sport and her life.
“I’m constantly amazed by her strength of character, focus and dedication toward achieving her dreams.”
Lesley will compete in the early hours of August 30 and September 3.