Sophie Wells is hoping to do Great Britain and Lincoln proud as she prepares to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The rescheduled Paralympic Games will take place between August 24 and September 5. Sophie will compete in the equestrian (dressage) in the individual event on August 26 and the team competition three days later on August 29, as well as the ‘freestyle’ on August 30 depending on qualification.
The 31-year-old said she can’t wait for the Games to begin when she spoke to The Lincolnite from Tokyo ahead of her training session on Monday.
She said: “I am happy that I’ve made it here. Over the past 18 months it has been so up and down with no guarantees, and I did have a moment where I thought ‘we are actually here and doing it’.
“I think everybody is very happy to be here. All the organisers and volunteers are very friendly and really lovely people.
“The atmosphere is great, the weather is great and the horses are coping with it really well and I am looking forward to the competition.”
Sophie was born with amniotic band syndrome and as a result she has little or no feeling or movement in her feet and has lost a number of fingers, but she has never let that stop her.
Sophie, who now lives near Saxilby and trains at her base in Harby, started riding at the age of eight at her local riding school and took up able-bodied dressage at the age of 12. She was the first para dressage rider to compete on both an able-bodied junior team and para dressage team in the same year in 2010.
She was selected for her first Paralympic Games in London 2012, where she won team Gold along with Silver in the individual and freestyle competition. A postbox in uphill Lincoln was painted gold to celebrate her achievements in London.
Sophie also competed at the Paralympic Games in Rio, Brazil in 2016, where she won individual Gold, freestyle Silver, as well as helping the team defend their team Gold.
Sophie, who received an MBE in the 2013 New Year’s Honours list, said: “I was brought up in a farming family and my dad was a footballer when he was younger until he took over the family farm. I’ve always been treated as my younger brother was and given all the opportunities and just got on with it.
“I’ve always had a go at things, some I’ve found more difficult than others like playing the recorder, but I always gave it a good go. I wanted to be active and tried different sports such as gymnastics and swimming, and I loved horse riding.”
Sophie will be competing on a different horse in Tokyo as ‘C Fatal Attraction’ was injured earlier this year and did not have sufficient time to train after recovery, so was substituted for ‘Don Cara M’.
She only had the horse for 18 months and has not been able to compete abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic, so Sophie is going into this year’s Paralympic Games with a different feeling.
She said: “I feel like I’m in a different position coming into these games. I went into the others as World and European champion, but I’ve not competed with this horses at any championships or against others in my class, so it’s hard to know where we stand.
“If we can qualify through to the freestyle on Monday, being in the top 30% of my class is the target. I am confident in the horse’s ability and we have great riders and horses on the team, so it will be exciting to see how it plays out.
“This is about building a team for the future that could be seen in Paris in 2024 and LA (Los Angeles) in 2028.
“The Paralympics is so different to any other championship, even as a COVID games, it is so special. It is sometimes a bit surreal as we are going in doing our job, but it is on the world stage and in front of a bigger audience, even if virtual and not live this time, it is very humbling.”
When asked what inspires her to keep competing, she added: “Working with different horses, building relationships and training them is what keeps me motivated on a daily basis.
“The communication and relationship with a horse is different to what you would have in any walk of life. To be able to get those horses to trust you, in an environment they may naturally flee in, is amazing and I feel very fortunate to work with the horses I do every day and that is what inspires me.
“It is a very different games to what we’ve been used to in the past, mainly due to COVID, but we have a great team at home with family and friends, my equestrian and support team, and even people I’ve known for years from school and the teachers.
“We couldn’t work on a daily basis without a lot of the support that we have – sponsors, owners and supporters. It honestly means so much and I really hope we can do Lincoln and Great Britan proud while we are here. It is a massive honour to have the (GB) flag on our jackets.”
So what is Sophie’s message to Lincolnshire? “Thank you so much for all the support and keep your fingers crossed for things to go well over here,” she said.
Sophie also trains the next generation of riders, including Georgie Wilson who is also in the Paralympics GB squad for the first time. The pair will compete for Great Britain alongside Sir Lee Pearson and Natasha Baker.
Sophie is not the only athlete from Greater Lincolnshire in the ParalympicsGB squad as Hollie Arnold, who was born near Grimsby, and Scunthorpe’s Victoria Rumary will compete in the Javelin and Archery respectively.
Gainsborough’s Jack Hodgson will represent ParalympicsGB in Judo. The former World Junior Champion finished seventh on his Paralympic debut in Rio in 2016 and will be looking to finish even higher in the +100kg category.