Turua family share Olympic pride

By Samantha Smith, Wintec journalism student

Medal winning cyclist Phillipa Gray, 23, is at home with her family in Turua on a well-deserved holiday after the London Paralympics.Gray, who is visually impaired, smashed the previous world record in the 1km time trial by five seconds and won gold, silver and bronze with her partner and pilot Laura Thompson.

Four family members travelled to London to support Phillipa, and describe their experience as phenomenal.

Mother Glenda says the Paralympics really turned it on.

"It was no different from the able body Olympics, every venue was sold out, thousands of people just coming and walking around the park.  The athletes were classed as heroes and they were very highly profiled just like all the able bodied athletes."

Gray was born with Usher syndrome, which impairs her vision and hearing.  She can only see 7.5 degrees whereas full vision is 180 degrees for both eyes.

She also has complications frequently with fluid in her retina.

Gray describes it as seeing through a mesh curtain.

"It's like looking through the size of a ballpoint pen. The closer people are, the less I can see but in more detail, and the further they are away, the more I can see but in less detail."

Gray says in 2009 she changed from her loved sport of rowing to cycling.

"Paralympics New Zealand had designed an accelerate to excellence programme.  I got invited to do a training day and they liked my power profile that had developed over the day. They sat me down and said this is the contract and this is what we would expect  you would have to do.  That is how it all started."

Phillipa's father Neil Gray says he remembers when she first started cycling.

"I remember three years ago when she went to the testing day I said to her, are you sure you really want go down this road? So to see her come out the end after following her dream and her standing on the podium getting a gold medal is pretty special.

"For Phillipa it's not as easy for her to just jump on a bike and go for a ride down the road, she has to do it in the garage on or with someone."

At the London Paralympics, Phillipa says she and her pilot coped well with pre-race nerves.

"It's really weird but I was actually fine, I mean obviously we had nerves but they weren't nerves that made you go silly or affects your performance," Phillipa says.

Her sister Libby says their dad was the worst for nerves.

"Dad missed half of Phillipa's kilo because he was arguing with a guy as he wasn't allowed to stand with his flag. It was quite funny."

The emotions and tears started flowing as Gray set a world record and collected all her medals.

"It was tears the whole time, it's just so special, just an amazing achievement," Mr Gray says. "To see your own child competing at the highest level and to think back and see everything she has gone through. You're just so immensely proud."

Mrs Gray says it's the anthem that gets you; it's a big moment of reflection.

Mr Gray says another highlight came after the gold medal ceremony after the athletes were getting off the podium. "They played an NZ song from Dave Dobbin - 'Slice of Heaven'. That was our song we had as our wedding dance when we got married. It was a nice touch for the end."

Next on the agenda for Phillipa is to take a long break and then go back next year to complete her double degree at university.


- Hamilton News

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