A Paralympic rower who won gold at Tokyo said she first tried the sport as a way to get into university.
Ellen Buttrick, 24, said rowing has “brought so much” to her life, from helping her gain a place at Northumbria University, to keeping her going after a devastating vision impairment diagnosis while studying there in 2014.
Buttrick has juvenile macular degeneration, which means her sight will deteriorate through her life.
On Wednesday, Buttrick brought home gold in the PR3 mixed coxed four final with teammates Giedre Rakauskaite, James Fox, Ollie Stanhope and cox Erin Kennedy.
Following their triumphant return to the UK, Leeds-born Buttrick joined other athletes at a celebratory event at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London on Saturday.
Speaking at the event about her introduction to the sport, Buttrick said: “I used to go to my local park and there would be rowers there, and I thought it looked interesting.
“I’d seen the Boat Race on TV – Oxford and Cambridge – and I come from a family where I’m the first generation to go to university.
“I thought maybe if I do rowing I’ll get into university, so I signed up to do it for my personal statement.”
“It’s brought so much to my life,” she added.
“I got diagnosed with my sight impairment in 2014 and rowing was the thing that kept me going.
“I didn’t get upset by it really at all because I thought, now I’ve got this opportunity to represent Great Britain at the Paralympic Games, so I’ve just been focused on that.”
Buttrick said the prospect of one of her team members testing positive for coronavirus after five years of hard work in the build-up to the Tokyo Games had been “hard to deal with” but competing in Japan felt “surreal”.
She said: “To get out there and to compete as part of Paralympics GB was a dream, and to come back to the UK and to share the success with everybody has been amazing too.”
When asked how the pandemic had affected her training ahead of Tokyo, Buttrick said: “It was definitely a challenge.
“I’ve had a couple of injuries over the past year, and I think my body could have done with it being last year.
“Having to maintain the training for so long and maintain the focus was hard, but because we’ve got such amazing support around us, mostly funded by the National Lottery, we’ve been OK and we’ve had everything we needed to get there.
“I’m just glad that we got there and managed to win the gold medal and done the country proud, hopefully.”
Buttrick is aiming to compete in the Paris Games in 2024 and hopes her family will be able to watch in person after spectators were banned in Tokyo because of Covid-19 conditions.