Paralympics: Meet Doncaster-born medal hope Jo Butterfield

Jo Butterfield
Jo Butterfield

Reigning World and European champion club thrower Jo Butterfield is flying the flag for Doncaster at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Butterfield, who hails from Woodlands but is now based in Scotland, wrote about her whirlwind five years in recent a blog for British Athletics.

Five years ago I suffered a completely unexpected spinal cord injury. I was just a regular person working for the MOD doing everyday normal things, and then I was told I had a tumour on my spinal cord. I had an operation to remove the tumour and was told there was a 0.01% chance that I could be paralysed afterwards. Hours later I woke up to the news.

It is a huge life changing experience, but I chose not to dwell on it. The whole thing has given me a big reality check on life. I stressed about so many unimportant things in life, and when something life changing like that happens, it puts everything into perspective.

I spent six months in hospital, and sport was part of my rehabilitation. That’s where my first taste of sport came from, and I enjoyed it. It was a nice break from the mundane physio you were put through every day. At that point being a para sport athlete was something that was never on my radar at all.

I had enjoyed sport before my disability, but I was never involved in anything. My work for the MOD put a lot of focus on physical fitness but not any particular sport. There was a social side to taking up sport after my operation. When I was in school I used to avoid athletics like the plague, it wasn’t my cup of tea and I had never tried throwing, I knew what the discus was but had never heard of a club.

It was wheelchair rugby that I fell in love with first. It’s a popular sport particularly for tetraplegics and I was introduced to that. I just found it so much fun, you were able to just sit in a chair and smash someone else!

Through that I was talent spotted by UK Sport and asked to take a look at athletics and I thought why not? So I went along to a talent transfer day and before you know it four months down the line I earned my first GB selection.

Straight away the first thing everybody said to me was Rio is too soon, it is out of the question. I was so naïve to begin with, I was just doing it for the enjoyment. It was so far off the realms of possibility that I didn’t even dare to dream about it. But it was quite quick, that once I was classified and had been competing for six months people started saying I could go far in the sport. I did make a choice right there and then, that if I’m going to do it, I’ll give it my all. I gave up work and started training full time, and I think it’s important you put that sort of dedication into it.

I was completely like a fish out of water when I competed in my first major competition at the 2014 European Championships in Swansea. I did not have a clue what I was doing. I turned up and everyone had these fancy frames they threw from. I was so inexperienced, but I think that helped me in a way. I was just there to throw my best. I think the enjoyment is very much at the heart of why I do it. I have to tell myself that more and more, because it is hard and there is a lot of pressure and expectation as you start to win. I am no longer this person nobody knows, people are now expecting me to throw well.

Doha (the IPC Athletics World Championships) proved to be another step up in competition. Through that I earned early selection for Rio and it has been a huge boost for me. You try not to entertain the idea of a Paralympics too much, but it is always there in the background. I’m trying to stick to the plan and not get carried away with the hype of it all.

n Butterfield competes in the Women’s F51 Club Throw Final on Sunday (21:33 UK time) and Women’s F52 Discus Final on Wednesday (21:39 UK Time).