GAVIN Walker reflected on his remarkable journey to a Paralympics gold medal this week and admitted: “The achievement still hasn’t sunk in.”
The former firefighter was co-captain of the wheelchair rugby squad which made history in Tokyo by becoming the first Great Britain team to win a medal of any colour at the Games.
The triumph came eight years since Gavin joined the national squad as a full-time athlete and 11 years since his life was changed forever when he slipped on wet decking and broke his neck.
And after taking up wheelchair rugby, he could never have imagined it would end in becoming a Paralympic champion.
“Back then you couldn’t dress yourself, you couldn’t brush your teeth, you couldn’t do the day to day stuff,” said Gavin this week from his home in Wickersley.
“Never did you even imagine that (winning a medal at the Paralympics) was a possibility.
“It’s only when you meet people who have been there and done that, and that was one of the reasons I started to play the sport.
“It was only then you realise what sport can do and the possibilities there is from playing sport.”
GB bumped out hosts Japan 55-49 in the semi-final to set up a gold medal match against the United States.
Despite tournament defeats to the Americans in the past, including a loss to them in the Pool stages, Gavin and his team-mates had their number when it mattered as they prevailed 54-49 at the Yoyogi National Stadium to set the celebrations in motion.
Gavin and GB had missed out on the medals in Rio in 2016.
“For years we have been capable of doing it,” he said. “We have been stringing it together to give consistent performances to play a tournament like that.
“Everything that could have gone right went right. Players performed, there were no injuries and we had good coaching.
“The achievement still hasn’t sunk in.”
The only down side was that family members couldn’t be in Japan to see Gavin’s special moment due to ongoing pandemic restrictions, but the experience was still a great one.
He added: “We have been fortunate in that we have been there a few times before because Japan is one of our main competitors.
“Going back this time, we weren’t quite sure about the restrictions they would put on us and whether we would be able to move about freely in the Olympic village. We were pleasantly surprised. There were a fair amount of restrictions and mask wearing everywhere all the time and that was to be expected, but we had enough freedom that we could get out and about. It’s not like we were stuck in our rooms.
“It was such a positive experience after everything that has happened.”
WHEELCHAIR rugby ace Gavin Walker wants another shot at Paralympics action in three years’ time.
GB will defend their Tokyo 2020 title at the Paris Games in 2024 and the 37-year-old father of two would love to be part of it.
“That has always been the plan,” said Gavin, who is father to two girls aged 11 and nine and plays his club rugby with Leicester Tigers.
“It has made it a little easier that we are now a year ahead than we would have been if the Games had gone ahead last year. You are a quarter of the way there already.
“Because I first started playing the sport after London 2012, Paris is the closest it is going to be for a ‘home’ Games.
“My children still haven’t seen me play at that level so it will be an opportunity for them to come and see me.
“Rio in 2016 was that little bit too far and they were probably too young. On this occasion in Tokyo we obviously weren’t allowed spectators.
“Next time we can hopefully get everyone there and have a big crowd.”