Lesley Stewart selected for Tokyo Paralympic Games
Lesley has lived much of the last 20 years in extreme pain. How on earth then, has she found the ability to stand at the cusp of competing for a medal in Target Shooting at this year’s Tokyo Paralympics?
After joining the Army in 2000, and whilst enjoying her time in the Royal Military Police, Lesley’s life changed forever on an annual combat fitness test.
“I pulled a muscle in my back during the eight-mile run in March 2004. It ached straight away, but within a week I was getting severe pain in my left ankle. My foot began twisting and pointing to the right. None of the medics could understand it because I hadn’t hurt my leg at all.”
After years of mystery, pain and multiple operations she decided to have her left leg amputated in 2007. However, the pain continued.
“I was eventually diagnosed with something called dystonia. Basically, when I pulled that muscle in my back, my brain malfunctioned and started sending signals to my ankle instead of my back, telling it to go into spasm. After the amputation, the signal just moved to my next joint, which was my knee.”
Eventually, Lesley underwent a life threatening deep brain stimulation operation in 2009, which implants a box into the chest and wires are fused to the brain emitting electric currents with the aim of blocking the pain signals. It was dangerous and meant Lesley had to relearn how to speak and move around, but it was a success.
And it was while she was recovering in Headley Court in 2010 that Lesley was introduced to shooting. She was a natural.
“The Shooting association visited Headley Court to host a ‘have a go’ day. I did well and was invited to another weekend at Stoke Mandeville. While I was there, I was spotted by the performance director of the GB Paralympic team and soon after I was training with them.”
Lesley Stewart's Paralympics journey from Headley Court to Tokyo
Not long after Lesley won a silver medal at the 2013 European Championships in the 3P Para Shooting category (competitors shoot in three positions – standing, kneeling and prone – over 50 metres). She quickly excelled in the 50m prone shooting and 10m air rifle disciplines, both of which are Paralympic events, and Team GB berth for Rio 2016 looked likely.
However, her Rio Paralympic dreams were soon dashed when she got an infection in her stump and Lesley’s leg was again amputated at the knee.
More determined than ever, Lesley worked her way back into Paralympic contention for Tokyo 2020 through hard work and dedication. It was her bronze medal-winning performance at the World Shooting Para Sport Lima World cup that secured her flight to Tokyo, where she will compete in both the R8 (50M Rifle 3 Position Women SH1) and R2 (10m Air Rifle Standing Women SH1). The veteran is full of pride to represent her country.
Lesley Stewart is now shooting for a medal with the help of Blesma!
Along her journey, Lesley has received support with her shooting career from Scottish Target Shooting, Blesma and British Shooting and is full of praise for two communities that, she says, have supported her over the years; athletes and Blesma.
Shooting is a small world and the athletes have been like another family to me. Blesma has also been great. My Blesma Support Officer is often in touch, and the Association assists me with funding. The charity has also been great during lockdown and; I’ve enjoyed all the Zoom conversations, activities and presentations.