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Meet military Paralympian Jo Butterfield, representing her country following selection in Athletics for ParalympicsGB at Rio 2016, with support from Help for Heroes.
Jo worked alongside the British Army; it was in January 2010 that she discovered that she had a tumour on her spinal cord. After a scan Jo was taken for surgery where she was told there was a 0.01% chance of paralysis, she woke up paralysed from the waist down.
“I’m paralysed kind of from the chest down, so it affects all four limbs. I have a little bit of movement in my thumbs but not really anything much more than that. I have very weak triceps. So it does kind of affect everything that I do, but I am independent and able to live a pretty normal life to be honest. I do everything that I did before and a whole lot more, so I can’t complain.”
Jo began her rehab in hospital.
“You don’t want to be in hospital for six months, but through it we did sport every Wednesday. And I was one to try everything. It was a chance to be able to not sit and do stretches on the physio bed, it was to actually do something fun.”
She went to the Spinal Games which takes place every year where every spinal unit in the country competes against each other at a variety of sports. There Jo made it her mission to try every single sport from pool to bowling to swimming.
“I just loved the experience and realised that I could still have fun. And there was one day in the spinal unit where we had a group of volunteers to do wheelchair rugby. And I think that I knew I would love wheelchair rugby.”
After a particularly bad day of pain and spasms, Jo was persuaded into a wheelchair to try wheelchair rugby.
“Eventually I got in and within 10 seconds my face was beaming. I absolutely loved it, I fell in love with it there and then. I think that was the first moment that I realised that I could do something dangerous; I could do something exciting and I didn’t have to be wrapped up in cotton wool; I didn’t’ have to be protected all the time and I could do something aggressive and actually competitive.”
Six months later and after leaving hospital, Jo joined a local wheelchair rugby team and later became their Vice-Captain.
“I met a guy called Michael Kerr who plays for Great Britain and we started training every day. And I realised that I was enjoying the training more than actually the work I was doing. It was him that said to me “this could be your profession”. To cut a long story short, I got accepted on a Girls4Gold programme with UK Sport and British Athletics and they looked at a talent transfer to British Athletics for seating throwing and very quickly I sort of realised that this was something I was quite good at and within 18 months I was sort of competing at world level.”
In 2014 Jo was classified as a F51 athlete and began competing in regional meets in both the discus and club throw events. In August that year she was selected for the Great Britain team to compete at the 2014 IPC Athletics European Championships. There she competed in the F32/51 club throw, and set a new European record winning gold.
The following year Jo travelled to Dubai to take part in the Fazaa International. She won the F32/33/51 discus beating the previous F51 European record by 27 centimetres. She also improved on her European record in the club with a throw of 19.69 which saw her take gold. In July Butterfield competed in her third IPC Grand Prix of the year, held at the Olympic Park in London where she won both the discus and club throw.
Earlier this month (June 2016) she reclaimed her European title in the F32/51 club throw at the IPC European Championships in Grosseto, Italy where she threw a World Record.