PUBLISHED: 16:59 11 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013
Taunton sportswoman Lucy Shuker is preparing to represent Britain at this summer's Paralympic Games in Beijing. The 28-year-old has been British No.1 women's wheelchair tennis player for the last three years and is currently ranked No.10 in the wo...
Lucy Shuker will be one of eight GB wheelchair tennis players in Beijing and will play in the women's singles and doubles alongside fellow Briton, Jordanne Whiley.
As she relaxes on a summer's evening, following a day of training with her coach, Lucy tells me what playing for her country means to her and how she has managed to overcome the many challenges she has faced since breaking her back in a motorbike accident seven years ago.
"Ever since I had my accident and started playing wheelchair tennis, it has been my dream to qualify and represent my country in the Paralympics. I believe it will be the most amazing experience for both myself and my close family and friends. I hope it will also give me valuable experience in preparation for London 2012."
Lucy divides her time between her home in the Somerset village of Ash Priors and her family home in Fleet, Hampshire, where she grew up, and where she was once a county-standard badminton player.
A keen horse rider and all-round sporty youngster, Lucy did a degree in Science and Management of Exercise and Health before walking straight into a sales job. With her first pay packet she paid for her motorbike licence, but just 12 days after passing her test she crashed while taking a corner on a country road.
"I don't remember anything about the accident," says Lucy, who spent 10 months in Salisbury Spinal Unit. "I said I would walk out of the spinal unit no matter how hard it would be, but I did not realise that was not an option. I cried my heart out the day I first got into my wheelchair."
It was during her stay in Salisbury Spinal Unit that Lucy met Athens Paralympic gold medallist Pete Norfolk, who introduced her to the idea of wheelchair tennis.
Following her first game in Taunton, Lucy joined a wheelchair tennis group in the town and Tone Leisure and Blackbrook Tennis Centre support her with courts and gym access.
She has made rapid progress through the ranks of the sport and over the past 12 months she has beaten a string of top players, despite being one of the most disabled competitors. In 2007 she won the Players' Player of the Year Award from the National Wheelchair Tennis Association.
Her hectic life on the international wheelchair tennis circuit began this year with the Australian Open followed by tournaments in America, Japan and Europe.
When she's not on tour, Lucy trains in Taunton with coach Natalie Ayton four or five times a week, and sees fitness coach James Quirk twice a week. And she has just started working with a psychologist on a new acupuncture treatment called Emotional Freedom Technique, which is aimed at getting people into the right frame of mind for their sport.
"I think because sport has always been a part of my life, I don't see why having a disability should stop me doing it. Sport makes everyone healthier and I always feel good for having done something. But it's important to give your body enough time to recover from it."
In fact, in June, at the 2008 Invacare World Team Cup in Cremona, Italy, Lucy was forced to withdraw from a match through a neck injury. "I'd had a run of tournaments and was shattered and just needed some time off," she explains.
"Ever since I had my accident and started playing wheelchair tennis, it has been my dream to qualify and represent my country in the Paralympics"
Lucy feels passionate that sport should be available for all and joined Bath-based world-record sprinter Ben Rushgrove and fellow wheelchair tennis player Louise Hunt at the launch of Deloitte Parasport.
The nationwide campaign has been spearheaded by iconic Paralympian Dame Tanni-Grey Thompson, with the aim of developing disability sports in the UK, and the trio launched the initiative at Team Bath's sports training village at Bath University.
"Sport in my eyes should be an integral part of all children's lives as they grow up and, in one way or another, followed through into adulthood, too. However, being disabled can create a stereotype that sport is not possible - but this is far from the truth and quite possibly becomes even more important.BY SARAH FORD
The 2008 Paralympics will be held in Beijing from 6-17 September, www.paralymics.org.uk. For more information about the Deloitte Parasport initiative visit www.parasport.org.uk.
Mike Alsford is happy to carry out portrait shoots for both professional and private clients. For more information visit www.alsfordpictures.com.