Dark days inspire Wiggs in pursuit of Paralympic history

Emma Wiggs is looking to add more medals to her collection at next year's Paralympics - and become the first para canoeist to defend their title (Sportsbeat)

Emma Wiggs admits her year has been an emotional rollercoaster, with dark days, tears and much soul-searching.

But the glow of world gold means all eyes are now on the Land of the Rising Sun for Britain's most successful canoeist.

Wiggs is looking to become the first para canoeist to defend their Paralympic title in Tokyo next year and won her eight career world title earlier this year.

But a wrist injury, which medics feared could be career ending, has pushed her to the limit more than any other challenge.

"There were times in the year where it was really quite dark – I hadn't felt that disabled for nearly 20 years" said Wiggs, who turns 40 in the weeks before next year's Games, and was speaking at an event to highlight Sainsbury's long standing partnership of the British Paralympic team and commitment to inclusive sport.

“I’ve never really felt those deep lows. It was a real struggle, both from a professional point of view as an athlete, but also from a personal point of view, to deal with all the psychological aspects of feeling quite disabled and injured.

“There were times when I wondered if I was ever going to make a start line again.

“Every year you try to be better, faster and stronger but with my injury, it was the first year I couldn’t be any of those things.

“It was a roller coaster year for me and to be able to finish it off with a gold and silver at the World Championships was an amazing achievement.

“There were actually some real soul-searching moments where I realised, I’m more than just a canoeist.

“I happen to be not too bad at canoeing, but I know I’m more than that, so my injury was a bit of a reality check. I want to make the most of everything I am getting to do."

Wiggs has never been ready to let anything get in her way.

At the age of 18 she contracted an unidentified virus during a gap year in Australia which left her with permanent nerve damage in her legs – but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a reigning Paralympic, World and European champion in para-canoe.

And if her achievements weren’t impressive enough already, the 39-year-old isn’t ready to call time on her medal count just yet.

With Tokyo 2020 creeping ever closer, Wiggs, despite her setbacks, believes she is closer than ever to doing the unthinkable in Japan.

And last week, she got the perfect opportunity to test the waters when she travelled to Tokyo with the rest of the para-canoe team for their preparation camp, even if she was dealt a few surprises. 

“We got the opportunity to go into Tokyo and paddle on the actual course, which was amazing,” she added.

“It was brilliant to learn what the water is like, what effect the wind has but I think the biggest learning curve was dealing with the jumping fish!

“I was paddling along, and these giant fish would be jumping out of the water, splashing the boats. One of the Olympic paddlers ended up with one of them in their boat mid-race - bit of a shock!

“All these little experiences mean we are hopefully best prepared for Tokyo, you certainly don’t get jumping fish in Nottingham!

“Going there and seeing it all made me realise what I need to do now to make sure I am there in just under twelve months’ time.

“I feel really confident that next year I can go to Tokyo and become a history-maker.

“I want to do something that no-one has done before and win two medals in para-canoe at a Paralympic Games – that’s the ultimate goal.

"I’ll be going to bed early, eating well, not drinking – all the things that make me quite boring – so I know I’ll be able to get there in the end."

Sainsbury’s is the longest-standing supporter of ParalympicsGB and a champion of inclusive sport for all. Sainsbury’s commitment to helping customers live well for less has been at the heart of what we do since 1869. For more information on Sainsbury’s commitment to inclusive sport visit https://www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/