Lee Pearson flies the flag at the 15th Paralympic Games, starting in Rio de Janeiro tonight with the Opening Ceremony.
The 10-times Paralympic champion Lee Pearson has been named as Great Britain’s flag bearer for Wednesday’s opening ceremony of the XV Games in Rio. The 42-year-old equestrian rider from Staffordshire won three golds at each of the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Paralympics. He also won team gold at the London 2012 Games, plus one silver and one bronze.
Pearson describes himself as a “colourful character”. He was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, meaning his limbs were twisted and have very little muscle, and is homosexual.
“I am so proud and honoured to be the flag bearer for such a talented, strong and passionate group of British athletes,” Pearson said.
“Being a diverse character myself has meant that being voted by the athletes themselves has made this moment even more special. I genuinely feel that we are among the best prepared and supported athletes at the Paralympic Games and I can’t wait to lead my fellow team-mates from ParalympicsGB into the stadium in a day’s time – I hope I don’t get blown away.”
I loved riding at school, from walking around the school ring doing the balancing exercises to sitting a in a draughty horse-box learning stable management. I wasn’t so keen on the muddy wheels afterwards.
My parents managed to travel from “up north” to see me one Saturday, where my Dad exclaimed, “Look at her! She’s on the biggest bloody horse she can find. She’s not safe, get her off…” My Mum told him not to be so daft, I’d be fine – and of course, I was. It was the smallest horse I fell off, at some later date!
If I’d had an inkling of dressage possibilities for a disabled rider I would have continued riding. But, I didn’t know and it wasn’t the sort of thing a miner’s daughter did, not back then.
I still love horses, and if I were not such a hefty lump full of aches and pains, I might be tempted to take up riding again. Riding is eminently suitable for someone with Arthrogryposis (if you can get your legs over the horse’s back) because it doesn’t need strength like wheelchair racing does, or swimming. Upper body strength to keep your balance, and a few thigh muscles to grip the saddle will get you by – and if you ride regularly your overall strength improves.
I also did swimming at school, winning a gold medal for backstroke at Stoke Mandeville Games. Unluckily for me, a spate of ear infections almost every month for a year kept me out of the pool, and I never went back. I loved swimming, but I think my first love is horses. There is something magical about working with such a great animal, moving together in harmony even if only walking around, that words can’t describe.
Good luck to Lee, flying the flag for disability sport, equestrianism and in our eyes at least, for people with Arthrogryposis.