Sinead Chambers is all set for Tokyo
When Sinead Chambers started out on playing badminton she could not have envisaged how it would consume nigh on two decades of her life.
It was a sport which had brought together her mum Jane and dad Brian and in which she was to win three successive Irish Junior titles from 2007 to 2009 and she made her Irish Junior debut at the ripe old age of 16.
She later dominated the coveted Irish National Ladies Doubles competition from 2011 until 2018, winning seven titles, six with Jennie King and one with Caroline Black and in 2018 partnered her brother Ciaran to lift the Mixed Doubles crown after so many near misses.
Sinead was to compete in three Commonwealth Games competitions, the first in Delhi 2010 when marching out onto court in front of 70,000 spectators will live long in the memory and competed in the Glasgow and Gold Coast Games but this year’s Paralympics in less than a month’s time is likely to eclipse even that and she gives readers of the Ulster Star a unique insight into the pandemic and how it affected the preparations of the GB side and what life has really been like in the build-up.
‘Working throughout the pandemic has been extremely difficult” she admits.
For almost five months our athletes were training at home, using any equipment we could get our hands on, with only remote support from staff. As a team we were as creative as possible with weekly challenges and adapting our training sessions to suit the individual needs and environment of the athletes.
“These first few hard months, combined with the postponement of the Paralympic Games, were tough but really highlighted the importance of connecting as a team and trying to get through this difficult situation together.
“In the year 2019, we travelled to 15 countries to compete in Paralympic qualification events. When compared with last year, having no competitions and very little structure to the year, this, like for many people, it had an effect on morale and that sense of purpose.
“However, once we were able to return to training within the elite venue in July 2020, this gave everyone a real sense of routine and we were able to really focus on the goal ahead. I can’t fault our GB Para-Badminton team and the English Institute of Sport on how they supported staff and athletes through this difficult time.
“We have recently travelled back from Spain, in which we competed in our last Paralympic Qualification event. This was our first competition since the pandemic began and extremely different to anything we have been used to in the past.
“The Covid-19 protocols put in place to ensure safety of the athletes and the competition, albeit necessary, were hard to get used to. Regular testing, limited social interactions and unable to explore our surroundings were all things that staff and athletes had to comply with.
“However, this will likely be the case in Tokyo for the Paralympic Games, so at least it will be something that we have been exposed to and are used to.
“Despite all these protocols and rules, the Great Britain athletes performed well, picked up vital qualification points and came home with a great medal haul.
“A brilliant reward for all their hard work and resilience over the past year in lockdown.
“We are now 12 weeks away from when we fly out to Tokyo and this training block will give us the opportunity to fine tune and improve any areas we feel necessary for each individual. As a physio, my role is to monitor the athletes, ensuring their health and fitness are a priority and ultimately support the coaching staff and athletes to peak on the biggest stage of them all.
“The first round of announcements of selection for Team GB will be next week and then bipartite announcement won’t be until mid-July, but all our athletes are sitting in good positions to qualify so we are cautiously optimistic that we will have a full squad at the Paralympic Games.
“Despite the Tokyo Paralympic Games 2021 being a completely different event to the norm, I am still really excited to support our team and experience Badmintons debut at the Paralympic Games.
“I am excited to see years of hard-work and sacrifice, from both athletes and staff, pay off and hopefully be in positions to compete for medals.
“On a personal level, I feel very lucky to not only support world class athletes as my day job, but to have the opportunity to attend the Paralympic Games as part of Team GB is something I am really excited for and proud of.’