World champion athlete Emma Wiggs MBE from Watford made history at the Paralympics in Tokyo this summer taking the first-ever gold in the VL2 paracanoeing event.
This month, MyLocalNews caught up with the world champion to find out more about her journey to Tokyo and beyond.
Emma attended Watford Grammar School for Girls and at 18 took a gap year to Australia. There she contracted a mystery virus that initially paralysed her and left her with irreparable nerve damage in her legs.
Despite the life changing event, Emma was determined to pursue her chosen career as a PE teacher and studied Sports Science and gained a PGCE in secondary PE, working in West Sussex in 2004.
It wasn’t until 12 years after her accident that Emma discovered parasport and has since gone on to win eight World Championships, five European Championships medals and Gold at the Rio and Tokyo paralympic games in the women’s 200m KL2 and VL2 classes.
Emma’s para-sporting journey began in the lead up to the London Paralympic Games in 2012, but not in the sport she went on to become a world champion in. She first took part as a sitting volleyball player in the London Games.
She explained: “The 2012 London Games changed the future of paralympic sport, it changed the future and perception of how disabled people are seen.
“But for me, sitting volleyball was more recreational. I wanted to do something a bit more professionally and that’s when I went on to try para-canoeing.
“As soon as I got in the lake, I fell in love with it. The coaches believed they could turn me into a world-beating canoeist and I threw myself into training six days a week. Once I found my sport, I went from strength to strength.”
Emma said that her greatest achievement was achieving gold in the Paralympics in Rio 2016, the first-ever time paracanoe was in the games and equally being one of two athletes in the world who double medalled. Emma paddled a Va’a boat and a kayak showing great diversity and skill.
The Paralympic champion added that COVID lockdowns made training difficult but they found ways around the disruption. “There was a lot of uncertainty, as athletes, we were just trying to control what we could.
“We had 15 weeks of training at home during the first lockdown, canoeing at home on a machine and paddling together virtually. We saw the extra year as a chance to find new ways of training and new opportunities. I think that was the difference between Team GB and the rest of the world. We made the best of it and that showed in the medals that we won.”
After her huge success at Tokyo 2020, Emma had no time to rest and headed straight to the World Championships in Denmark in September where she ranked first place for Great Britain.
She concluded: “I feel so lucky to be doing a sport where I am fitter, stronger and more able than I ever was when I was able-bodied.”
When she isn’t busy on the water, Emma is also a motivational speaker, teacher and athlete meteor for Youth Sports Trust.
For more information visit emmawiggs.com