There were few more deserving medallists at the Tokyo Paralympic Games than Yorkshire rower Ellen Buttrick.
The 26-year-old topped the podium in the Mixed PR3 coxed four-event but it was her extraordinary and selfless build up to the Games that has made her the champion she finds herself today.
While Olympic and Paralympic athletes around the globe desperately tried to adapt their training regimes to the challenges and restrictions caused by Covid - Buttrick took it upon herself to add a secondary challenge to her list.
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The Yorkshire rower, whose career in elite sport is supported by funding from The National Lottery, divided her time between intensive training sessions on a rowing machine and helping organise a team of community volunteers in Henley-on-Thames, her adopted home.
As an Area Coordinator for the Henley COVID-19 Mutual Aid group, the 24-year-old oversaw a group of about 150 volunteers, helping those who were self-isolating or particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, she used her time outside of training to support refugees and asylum seekers as a volunteer with the charity Sanctuary Hosting. She also volunteers with Girlguiding UK and hopes to resume her work with both organisations once the social isolation measures are lifted.
"Before I joined the team, I worked for the Refugee Council and volunteered for the British Red Cross. Then when I moved down to Reading, and I got full National Lottery funding to be an athlete, I thought that I want to help people still and now I have an opportunity to volunteer rather than have to work for my money," said Buttrick, speaking at an event hosted by The National Lottery and UK Sport at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London where youngsters from across the capital tried their hand at new Olympic and Paralympic sports.
"During the pandemic I did a lot of volunteering within the local community. We set up a local mutual aid group during the first week when Boris Johnson announced lockdown.
"That's literally what I think my job is, to work hard and try and win medals - and show the nation that they can achieve what they want to do as well.
"When the Games were postponed it was like 'well, what am I meant to do now?' and I thought what we need in society is to help one another and get through this as a community so I worked to help set up that group in our area.
"We made sure that people who were shielding all had what they needed. In between sessions, if somebody rang me I'd jump off the rowing machine and run and get their prescription ticket or I might link it into a training session, so with my bike rides I might check up on people and make sure they were ok that day.
"I really believe in volunteering," she continued. "I think especially in sport I wouldn't be here without the volunteers, without my rowing club and I think it's just such an amazing thing that brings so much to you as a person to be able to give back to people. I'm very passionate about it."
Buttrick was attending Northumbria University when her vision began to deteriorate, and she was later referred to hospital to discover that she needed more than just new glasses, as she had first assumed.
She was diagnosed with Stargardt macular degeneration, a genetic eye disorder that causes progressive vision loss.
During a period in her life where she was enjoying life at university, studying for her degree and constantly improving on her rowing, Buttrick had just found out her vision was going to get worse.
Rather than giving up, she channelled her determination into a new career as a Paralympic athlete.
"I think it's massively important because of The National Lottery investment we've put into elite sport that we capitalise on the profile of the Paralympic Games," she added.
"The reason we do it is to try and get the nation active and try to inspire people to take part in sport.
"Rowing for me has changed my life. When I found out in 2014 that I was sight impaired I was 19 and it was rowing that kept me going.
"I didn't really get upset, I thought about what's the opportunity in this - I could maybe go to the Paralympics. I've been focused on that for the past seven years and the community of the sport is what was able to get me to this space.
"It would be nice if the rest of society had that, the community behind them to push them through.
"I think sometimes we get divided, especially in Britain, but I think sport is something that equalises us all and brings us together.
"Having events like this, meeting kids who are in sport clubs and showing them that one day they could go to a Paralympic Games, I never met any elite athlete until I was on the team myself so to be able to meet people as kids lights a fire in them."
National Lottery players' support to ParalympicsGB athletes and community sport is vital. If you've been inspired and want to explore your Paralympic & Olympic potential, visit www.fromhome2thegames.com
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