Norfolk’s Paralympians start their London 2012 campaign

PUBLISHED: 10:06 30 August 2012

Mel Clarke.  PHOTO: Matthew Usher.

Mel Clarke. PHOTO: Matthew Usher.

Archant © 2010

The Paralympic Games are now in full swing. Norfolk’s Paralympians competing today are:

Mel Clarke

Sport: Archery - compound

From: Taverham

Age: 29

Schedule (The Royal Artillery Barracks)

Thursday, August 30: 10am ranking round.

British Paralympic archer Mel Clarke is hoping to improve on her Beijing bronze medal by taking gold at London 2012.

The 29-year-old said she was feeling “excited, prepared and ready” after a good year with some great results.

The Taverham archer, who is now based in Worcester, recently beat the current world and Paralympic champion to take gold at the Stoke Mandeville Invitational tournament - the last major international event before the Paralympic Games - and said she has been training hard in all aspects to give herself the best chance of another medal-winning performance this week.

Clarke, who will celebrate her 30th birthday on the day she hopes to be competing in the quarter final matches, said she has been bolstered by the Olympic Games and the home support.

She said: “It’s been a good year with some great results and I’m in a good mental, physical and technical position leading to these Games. “Lots of people have helped me get to this point so hoping to perform well at the home games.

“Watching the Olympics has been great. It’s been fantastic to see how much the public has got behind the athletes with support and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

“The successes of Team GB were amazing and the ceremonies were truly fantastic to watch. It’s going to be a very special atmosphere and opportunity to experience something truly incredible.

“Competing on home soil will be different from Beijing, I have a great support team of family and friends who are coming to watch from the stands and that will be incredible to be a part of. I’m looking forward to competing in front of a home crowd. To shoot in front of 4,000-plis people and be on TV is definitely exciting and a rare opportunity in my sport.”

Amy Conroy

Sport: Wheelchair Basketball

From: Norwich

Age: 19

Schedule (Basketball Arena)

Thursday, August 30: 1pm group A preliminary, Netherlands v Great Britain.

As a self-confessed shy youngster, wheelchair basketball helped bring Amy Conroy out of her shell - it also turned her into a world beater.

The 19-year-old was part of the team which won the BT Paralympic World Cup last year - and although they were unable to defend their title in May this year, the former Notre Dame High School pupil impressed in a 23-point showing against the reigning world and Paralympic champions USA.

Conroy is one of a number of young players in the squad, alongside Laurie Williams and Maddie Thompson, who have joined the party since the Games in Beijing four years ago – in fact, the average age of the women’s squad headed for London is 25.

And Paralympic Games will be the former Norwich Lowriders player’s biggest competition to date.

Conroy, who only started playing wheelchair basketball in 2007 after losing part of left leg after recovering from cancer in 2006, said: “I was incredibly shy and when I first had my leg amputated, I had really low confidence.

“But it’s given more confidence and it’s changed my life. The team members who have already competed at the Paralympic Games have been very supportive, the men as well as the women - it’s going to be a huge thing. Hopefully the home crowd will spur us on.”

Amy Ottaway

Sport: Goalball

From: Norwich

Age: 18

Schedule (Copper Box)

Thursday, August 30: 6.30pm preliminary round group A, China v Great Britain.

Amy Ottaway always said she was going to be in the Paralympics - and this summer, her dream will come true.

The registered blind teenager will be in action in the fast-paced indoor sport of goalball at the Copper Box.

The Wymondham College student picked up the dynamic sport at a Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club taster session and was then spotted by national coaches.

Goalball involves teams of three throwing a 1.25kg bell-filled ball towards the opponent’s goal. Defenders hurl themselves full length to block the shots and then return the shot.

The game was originally devised as a rehabilitation for visually impaired World War Two veterans but has developed into an action-packed sport relying on agility and instinct as all players where black-out shades.

“It is an amazing sport, there is no feeling like it,” said Ottaway. “It is unique, fast-paced, full of adrenaline and team work is essential. It is a level playing field because everyone has the shades.

“There is marked string on the court to help you move around but you get to know where you are by instinct. Ever since I was a little child I said I was going to be in the Paralympics – I never knew at which sport. It was like other kids saying they were going to be famous one day. For me it was always about the Paralympics and now I’ve made it. It is fantastic.”

In the run-up to the Games, the 18-year-old has been fitting in gym sessions and regular cross-country trips to Winchester for squad training.

She said she was now looking forward for the Games to begin. “It’s going to be great,” she said. “I’m really, really excited. Team GB did so well in the Olympic Games and it really does inspire you - you know the British public is behind you 100 per cent, which is a real boost.”

Kenny Allen

Sport: Archery – individual standing recurve

From: Wymondham

Age: 42

Schedule (The Royal Artillery Barracks): Thursday, August 30: 10am ranking round.

Kenny Allen first tried archery six years ago – and now he is about to represent his country at the Paralympic Games.

The married father-of-two first took up archery when he was looking for a new sport to try. He had always enjoyed accuracy sports such as darts, pool and fishing and discovered he was a natural archer.

The 42-year-old, who has spina bifida occulta, is hoping to be on target to finish in at least the top 10.

Allen, who came sixth in the world championships last year, said: “Like with most sports, archery depends very much on the day. There’s a whole host of very good archers that are going to be there and I’ve got as good a chance as any of them.

“If I can finish in the top 10, I will be happy – anything better will be a bonus.”

Allen trains every day and shoots about 80 to 140 arrows a day. He is a member of Hingham Archers and also trains at his Melton Close home in Wymondham.

“The Olympics just showed what our country can do when we get behind our own athletes,” said Allen. “It’s going to be one hell of an experience. I’ve never shot in front of that many people before. Watching the archery in the Olympic Games on the TV, the crowds seemed very respectful and knew when to cheer and when to be quiet.

“It’s going to be exciting. As a nation, we have done ourselves proud with the Olympic Games and we will do ourselves just as proud with the Paralympics. I want to go out there and shoot my arrows and do the best I can.”

Jody Cundy and Jessica-Jane Applegate start their 2012 campaign tomorrow.

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