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UK News 'Anything is possible!' - Shuker on silver, Raducanu and Rainbow Laces

01:15  01 december  2021
01:15  01 december  2021 Source:   skysports.com

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"I can't believe that I've achieved as much as I have - it just shows that anything is possible."

As Britain's top-ranked active player in women's wheelchair tennis, with multiple medals and over 100 international career titles, Lucy Shuker has helped fuel the imaginations of hundreds of para-athlete hopefuls.

Lucy Shuker has represented Great Britain at four Paralympic Games, delivering medals at London, Rio and Tokyo © Associated Press Lucy Shuker has represented Great Britain at four Paralympic Games, delivering medals at London, Rio and Tokyo

In 2021, she brought home a third Paralympics medal in doubles alongside playing partner Jordanne Whiley - who announced her retirement from the sport last month - and competed in a fifth Wimbledon final.

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Twenty years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the accident that left her paralysed from the chest down, she had no idea of the sporting journey that lay ahead of her.

"When I take a step back and look at my career, I was 21 when I had a motorbike accident and broke my back," she tells Sky Sports. "In a heartbeat, my life changed forever.

"It was at a time when you couldn't turn to social media and the internet to explore what was out there, to see what was possible."

While buying her first wheelchair, she met Pete Norfolk, who had started playing the sport a decade after his own motorcycle accident and would go on to win Paralympic gold in quad singles at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, earning himself the nickname 'The Quadfather'.

With Shuker having previously represented Hampshire in badminton, he quickly spotted her potential. "Finding tennis through meeting Pete helped me to accept my disability. I struggled at times mentally but sport changed my life.

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"I thought I was too disabled to compete with the top girls in wheelchair tennis but qualifying for Beijing as my first Games proved people wrong.

"From thereon, it's been incredible. It just shows that if you put your mind to it, if you work hard, you really can do it. And I've loved the journey, through all the highs and lows.

"We often judge someone's success based on their wins but although I haven't yet won a Paralympics gold medal, I'm really happy with the achievements I have got."

The word 'yet' is crucial. Although Whiley decided to "close the chapter" after their Tokyo 2020 silver medal, Shuker plans to continue on to Paris.

"I don't feel like I want to retire yet - I'm still improving," she says. "Paris is less than three years away now, which is close in terms of a Games cycle. I hope to be in that doubles team, and I'll be looking to compete in the singles anyway.

"It excites me actually because we have some strong players coming through. It will be a case of seeing out of us who's performing, and trying the different partnerships."

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'I've had a positive reaction to who I am'

Earlier this week, Shuker recounted her individual Tokyo story and offered her thoughts on other highlights from 2021 in a special online event held by the Sports Journalists' Association, in advance of the British Sports Awards on Thursday.

Despite all the uncertainty surrounding the Paralympics and the unique circumstances they encountered in Japan due to the pandemic, Shuker and Whiley surpassed their previous podium finishes by adding silver to their two bronzes.

"I'm incredibly proud of what we produced," she says. "Jordanne was always planning to announce her retirement after the Games so I knew it was going to be our last together.

"We had a Covid scare when we were out there, with our team leader testing positive - and that meant Jordanne and I ended up sharing an apartment, which was probably one of the best things that happened to us.

"We had quality time together on court and off court and ended up getting to the Paralympic final, which women in British tennis had never done before."

Experiencing such a big adventure with no fans in the Ariake Tennis Park was an additional challenge, however, with friends and family having to cheer Shuker and Whiley on from their sofas back home, often in the early hours. Shuker's partner Amy was among that group of supporters halfway around the world.

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"It was really strange not having her there, but she was always at the end of a phone and watching all my matches," says Shuker.

The last-four showdown against China's Wang Ziying and Zhu Zhenzhen was particularly tense. "Amy lives and breathes those moments with me and she knew that the semi-final was going to be an incredibly tough match. If we lost, we might come away with no medal at all."

The British second seeds delivered 6-4 6-2, ensuring a very happy homecoming at Heathrow where Amy was there to greet her. "I know that I'm very lucky. It's not often that you find your soulmate, someone who not only makes you a better person but challenges you at times as well.

"Amy is actually doing a masters in sports psychology at the moment so she's had a real insight with my sporting career - the day-to-day activities, supporting, and the tournaments we've been to."

They first met at a gig held during Pride in London. "I was competing at Wimbledon, and after finishing training for the day I went across to support a friend who was in a band. I met Amy there and we hit it off.

"She came and watched my finals match the next day but it wasn't until four years later that we got together as a couple - and we've been together ever since!"

She says it is "fantastic" to see the LTA's support for Rainbow Laces this year. Davis Cup captain Leon Smith has been among those in the Great Britain team wearing the laces courtside in Innsbruck, with the campaign also highlighted prominently by the governing body on social media in the last week.

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It follows on from a strong public show of commitment to inclusion made during Pride month, when the LTA underlined its pledge "to make sure that LGBTQI+ people feel part of tennis throughout the year".

"For me, I've always said that I'm Lucy and I happen to have fallen in love with another woman," she explains. "But I also appreciate that we're in this position where it helps to show support for the whole community.

"The more we raise awareness, and big sporting bodies are getting behind it, I think it's great. I've had a very positive reaction within tennis to who I am. The LTA has supported that - Amy travels with me to help me on the tour, and I've always felt that we're part of the team.

"I've never faced any negative comments or social media but for those who have, it's a shame and it really shouldn't be the case."

'Hamilton's a hero, Raducanu exceptional'

Shuker believes visibility can help to make the difference and as a big F1 fan, she cites the impact recently made by Lewis Hamilton - one of her heroes - as evidence of that.

"He's somebody who just seems to do so much good for the world, in so many aspects," she adds.

"The way he conducts himself, the way he's passionate about inclusion and helping to save the planet - he's using his platform for the better."

Having worn a helmet decorated with the Progress Pride flag en route to winning the Qatar Grand Prix, Hamilton has indicated he will do the same when racing in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

"In these and other countries, LGBTQ+ relationships are still illegal so for him to put such a positive message out there for so many to see, with the huge following he has, it's very powerful.

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"It's just about changing people's opinions and hopefully, eventually, the laws of countries that don't agree with someone's sexuality just because they fall in love with someone of the same sex. It's not something that's offensive or should be frowned upon - we should embrace love."

Recently, Hamilton has been unofficially mentoring Emma Raducanu after her shock US Open victory thrust her even further into the spotlight.

The teenager's triumph in the Big Apple is unsurprisingly Shuker's stand-out moment of the year in British sport - and possibly the greatest ever by a British sportswoman.

"She's the first player to have come through qualifying, to not drop a set, and to win a Grand Slam - it's not just one match but 10 straight matches.

"A player can go through their entire career and not win a Slam so to do it in that style is unbelievable. It's a moment in sporting history that we'll remember forever, and extra special to see a British woman doing something so exceptional.

"Her journey is just at the beginning so it will be exciting to see where it goes."

For Shuker herself, the next target is the Australian Open in January but with Covid again placing serious question marks on travel and tournament protocols, her participation in Melbourne is yet to be confirmed.

Whatever 2022 and beyond brings, she knows she will have the continued support of Path to Success, the charity established in 2005 that helps to empower British female para-athletes.

"Throughout their whole initiative, it's not just been about financial sponsorship but also raising our profiles and getting us out there in the media," says Shuker.

"There is still a tendency to focus on men in sport so it's great that there's a charity that's looking to raise the profiles of women."

Their slogan is 'Turning Inability into Ability' and Shuker's story is a shining, silver-lining example of that phrase. There's a few more chapters left to be written too.

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Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, back for its annual activation from November 25 to December 12. Your story of being LGBTQ+ or an ally could help to make sport everyone's game - please contact us here to discuss further.

Explainer – Why Emma Raducanu has a real chance to break into the world’s top 10 in 2022 .
The door is open for Raducanu to make rapid strides forward in the WTA rankings.The British teenager cemented a place in tennis history when she became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title, after her remarkable triumph at the US Open.

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