Other Sport

Gray makes successful return

2013-03-26 18:31
Emily Gray (AFP)

Johannesburg - Paralympic swimmer Emily Gray made a successful return to the pool at the National Championships for the Physically Disabled in Hillcrest on Tuesday, after a back injury.

Immediately after winning the 100m backstroke final, Gray underlined the importance of the Nedbank Championship and its importance for athletes to help grow the Paralympic movement in South Africa.

"It's definitely our responsibility to make sure that the face of disabled sport keeps growing and keeps being a positive and inspiring message. It's our responsibility not to just compete but to grow the sport as well," said Gray.

The championships were presented by the SA Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, at the Hillcrest Swimming Pool.

After the success of London 2012, and South Africa's prominent role on the international Paralympic scene, Gray has become one of the role models for the sport in South Africa.

She has starred in a television advertisement, which was nominated for an award at the SA Sports Industry Awards.

The tell-tale smile and golden girl exterior have made Gray a popular figure at the championships, where she knows the importance of competing and helping sport for people with disabilities grow in South Africa.

"I really love it, and I definitely feel blessed to be more a part of Nedbank's sponsorship than I thought I would be. I just enjoy interacting with people and I love the whole atmosphere," Gray said.

Despite being in the spotlight, she enjoys the atmosphere at the championships and believes they play an important part on the sporting calendar.

"Over the years South Africa has become more aware of Paralympic sports and the talent we have in this country. Last year, the minister of sport took that further by deciding to give Paralympic athletes the same amount of money as Olympic athletes, bringing us closer to them."

While she was a bit disappointed with her swim - the back injury is still not completely healed - Gray said she knows it was important to compete to achieve her goals in Rio in 2016.

For now, that means trying to get over the injury that has been bugging her, but competing still to ensure her training programme does not suffer.

"I'd like to sort my back out and really look at the basics in my strokes and keep with my technique. I need to start from scratch and build up, with a focus on 2016.

"The injury has aggravated over time, and my prosthesis forces me to walk a particular way and that causes some lower back problems."

With the World Championships in Canada in late August, Gray is working towards goals in representing South Africa there, with one eye on Rio.

She feels a tinge of sadness not to have Paralympic legend Natalie du Toit competing alongside her anymore. Du Toit retired from sport after London.

"It's sad not to have those people around, they used to motivate me and push me more, as well as help with advice, but I know now it's our turn to take over their role and help the youngsters come through on their way to the top," she said.

With so much positivity surrounding her, it is not surprising Gray is a popular face for the future of Paralympics in South Africa.

Read more on:    swimming

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