Sue Gilroy admits being a Paralympic athlete during the coronavirus lockdown is very difficult but is doing her best to help those around her while preparing for the 2021 Tokyo games. 

The 47-year-old table tennis player from Dodworth is hoping to represent Great Britain in a sixth Paralympics in Japan, which has been pushed back a year due to the pandemic.  Sue suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which causes her joints to dislocate up to hundreds of times a day and means she is in a wheelchair. 

She said: “It’s very difficult at the moment. Not having access to physio is causing me a lot of problems with my disability so my pain levels are sky high. I can’t just go out and train on the street. A lot of our squad are at risk, so it is hard for us. All the training facilities are shut. We have a zoom session every day at 12 and we shadow play for half an hour. It’s all the movements and technique but without a table and without a ball. It’s to keep your fitness up. It’s the best we can do at the moment.

“This whole situation is just unbelievable and so sad – something none of us ever thought we would see in our lifetimes. One of our GB squad members, Kim Daybell, is a doctor in London and I am incredibly proud of him.”

Sue – who was still finding her best form after an operation – was on the verge of qualifying for Tokyo when the lockdown started.  She is hoping to compete as an individual and in the team event with Megan Shackleton. She said: “It was nearly the end of the qualifying process and I was close. There were two tournaments cancelled and now I think we will have another year to qualify but we don’t know for sure. It’s disappointing because I have put a lot of work in but, in the scheme of things, it’s not really that important. The focus is on saving lives and keeping people safe. 

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“Mentally, I was prepared for the Paralympics and I had structured my life around the games. I was ready for it. But another year will help me considerably to get back to where I was, because I didn’t have that long to get back to my best after surgery.  As a team, we can develop a lot over a year.”

Sue is hoping for a first Paralympic medal, after she won the Commonwealth Games and more than 20 British titles while also taking medals at world and European level.  In Rio in 2016, she was two sets up in her bronze medal match but lost 3-2. She said: “It would be amazing to get that Paralympic medal. There is a Commonwealth Games in 2022 in Birmingham.  I would love to go for my third gold medal in the Commonwealths in front of a home crowd which is always great.  Those events are nice because you are mixed in with the able-bodied athletes, rather than the Paralympics and Olympics which are separate.”

Sue is a teacher at Shawlands School in Barnsley so has been very busy during the lockdown.  She said: “I am a key worker. It’s difficult because I am in a vulnerable group. We are on shift patterns but I am doing most of my work from home. I am trying to keep in touch with as many parents as I can. I am allowed out sometimes but I have to be very careful.”

She is also helping fellow residents in Baslow Crescent in Dodworth. Sue said: “We are doing as much as we can for people on our street, because there are a lot of elderly people. Me and my daughter went around about 100 houses with notes with our number on them.  If people want us to get anything for them from the local shop then we help them.  When it’s quiet, we go and get what they need and deliver it.  “My mum is inside because of her age so we are doing shopping for her as well.”