Before, I used to think; ‘The worst that can happen is that I come last.’ Now, I think; ‘I want to win this!’
Nerys Pearce has to be one of Blesma’s most active Members but that certainly wasn’t always the case. After being paralysed when a car reversed in front of her motorbike in October 2008, the former Combat Paramedic initially found her disability extremely tough to deal with. But after realising that she “could stay like that for 50 years and do absolutely nothing, or I could look at my old life, which I loved, and get it back”, she threw herself back into sport and began by taking part in Blesma’s Soldier Ride.
Since then, she’s clocked up a list of athletic achievements to rival anyone: medals in track and field, handcycling, swimming, basketball and weightlifting at the Warrior and Invictus Games; she has represented Wales in Para-Powerlifting at the 2018 Commonwealth Games; joined the Armed Forces Para Snowsports Team; and set both British and World records in indoor rowing.
But Nerys isn’t just satisfied with competing in disability sport. She’s also making a huge impression in events that are open to anyone. “Last year, I won a couple of open water races against able-bodied swimmers,” she says. “People would actually ask me why I was entering!” She answered them by winning. “It’s the love of sport, training hard, and always pushing to be a better version of myself. That’s what’s important, not disability.
“I’m still surprised by my results. I won the River Adur 5km open water swim, for example. Competing has been great for me mentally. It has cancelled out lots of the negative mental health issues I had towards my injury and feeling that I was less than my former self. Hopefully, I’ve also countered the labels people put on those with disabilities.
“I have the power to show people that the seemingly impossible is possible, and that you can make a difference in your own life.” Such successes have also boosted Nerys’ confidence to arrange events and activities for herself rather than just attending pre- organised races. She has swum the lakes in the Lake District and attended swim races in Finland and Sweden, and is off to Croatia soon. A Channel swim is on the cards, but next Summer will see her attempt what will perhaps be her most ambitious project to date; a 3,000-mile ride across America with seven other sick, wounded or injured women. This is a challenge they have planned from scratch.
“Blesma is a sponsor and has been vital in giving me more confidence,” she says. “As a team, we have sorted out all our own logistics for the trip, and that’s something Blesma has helped empower me to do. I used to rely on organisations to run things, now I’m making them happen.”
But as well as her major missions, she’s keeping her hand in with disability sport. “I’ve just bought this new race chair from another athlete,” she says. “Before I was injured, I was a triathlete and the more sport I’ve done, the more I have realised that endurance sports are my real love. The longer the race, the better I get!
“I recently competed in my first race in this chair and was in the lead until I crashed into a dog that was loose on the course! It was hugely disappointing, but I will race again soon. “I want to be pushed to use my intellect as well as my power, stamina, and endurance. That’s where sport makes me feel fulfilled, like I’m pushing all of myself. So I’m training in the chair and looking to take part in more triathlons.”
Meanwhile, Nerys has also stretched herself mentally through her involvement in the Blesma Community Programme and the Graeae Theatre Company’s production of This Is Not For You .
“That was a phenomenal and genuinely life- changing experience,” she says, “and off the back of it, I have even been offered a job with Graeae as a co-lead creative facilitator in schools. That’s just an amazing feeling.
“Along with the Community Programme, it has given me a great boost. I’ve never been the most confident in a big group of people, or been the arty, theatrical person who stands out and is good with words. I have always been nervous so taking part in that was a crazy journey. I’ve discovered I can interact with people and change the way they think. The Community Programme showed me that everyone else was just as nervous! I can let people in a bit more, and the confidence has even translated over to my sporting performances.
“Before, I used to think; ‘The worst that can happen is that I come last’. Now, I think; ‘I want to win this!’ ” Opponents beware