We salute the superfast Paralympian with a big heart, Rebecca Redfern, who came home from Tokyo with a silver medal and an extraordinary story
The uncertainty surrounding the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics made the road to Tokyo fraught for all athletes hoping to compete, but for Becky Redfern there was an added dimension. After winning gold at the World Para Swimming Championships in 2019, Tokyo was her next goal. Having won silver in Rio in the SS13 100m breaststroke, Becky was keen to make the Games and hoped to go one better.
It turns out that when Becky won the World Championship, she was pregnant which meant Tokyo was no longer an option. The timing wouldn’t have worked. Then due to Covid, the Games were postponed with the rearranged date giving Becky 14 months between giving birth to competing. It would take a monumental effort, but Becky and coach Mark Stowe at Worcester Swimming Club were up for the challenge. There was a dissertation to write too as Becky was due to complete her degree in 2020, so no pressure…
Becky was diagnosed with degenerative eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa as a small child and now has severely impaired visual fields with no peripheral vision and poor frontal vision, hence the SS13 category status. With pools closed during lockdown Becky started training in a hot tub in the garden. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but better than nothing and with the tension of a bungee rope tied around the waist and the resistance that created, it became the most effective way for swimmers to keep up pool time during those months, elite or otherwise. Social media was awash with videos of swimmers training in oversized paddling pools. It was all very 2020.
Once pools opened and training was back on, Becky could be seen ploughing up and down the water putting in the hard yards with a steely determination and with Mark pacing the poolside coaching. Once she’d qualified for Tokyo – an amazing feat, Worcester SC rallied around firstly crowd funding to help get Becky there and then by ensuring training sessions were super clean and Covid safe. Masks, hand sanitiser, no access to changing rooms, strict entrance and exit policies were all in place. Covid officers in hi-vis jackets kept the process running smoothly and swimmers kept their distance. A positive Covid test would have been a crushing blow to Becky’s effort as Tokyo grew closer which thankfully, she didn’t have to face.
The time difference meant the final was in the middle of the night. Friends and family set the alarm and watched nervously. Becky stormed the first 50 metres establishing a lead early on, but in the final 25 metres German Elena Krawzow began to attack and just pipped Becky to the wall in the last few strokes. Becky’s time of 1:14.10 was her fastest over the distance since Rio and she was visibly delighted.
After a tough couple of years mentally and physically, it was a beautiful moment. Becky’s turnaround has been described as ‘miraculous’ and while it is an extraordinary achievement, miraculous seems to negate the massive amount of hard graft and commitment. We feel a Hollywood blockbuster coming on…