CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Berkshire Life today CLICK HERE

Paralympic gold medallist Pam Relph tells her story

PUBLISHED: 11:32 23 September 2016 | UPDATED: 10:54 27 September 2016

At Stoke Mandeville with one of those precious flame-lighting torches (Derek Pelling Photography)

At Stoke Mandeville with one of those precious flame-lighting torches (Derek Pelling Photography)

Derek Pelling Photography

She’s an inspirational torch bearer: Pam Relph recently headed to Brazil to defend her treasured rowing title and gold medal

Pam Relph felt her whole world was at an end when, aged 20, disability forced her to leave the Army career she had spent years preparing for.

But as one door slammed shut behind her, another suddenly opened up in the form of a glorious career as a Paralympic World Champion, gold medallist and recipient of an MBE.

The 26-year-old, from Weston Turville, Aylesbury, who was first diagnosed aged seven as having the degenerative condition psoriatic arthritis, recalls: “I was told by the Army I was not continue my career because I was not suitable to be deployed.

“I had joined up when I was 16 and was really devastated that, aged 20, the career I had trained for and studied for came to an end. I had a strong military background in my family and wanted to carry it on. I was really gutted. Every major life decision up until then had been based on me getting in to the Royal Engineers.”

But, in her hour of need, Pam’s family came through for her.

“My whole family went through that process with me,” she says. “I called up my mum, gutted and in tears and was completely at a loss over what I was going to do next. I had no plans.

“My sister, Monica – who is a rower - put the feelers out with the GB Paralympic team to find out whether I would qualify. I had never previously rowed competitively but the military experience makes you tough and makes you work hard. I guess I had the mental capacity for it already and it was just a case of physically learning to row.”

Pam’s arthritis means the bones in her right hand and right fist are fused together, severely decreasing her strength in this arm.

When she learnt her disability did qualify her to be a Paralympian, she was excited, but still had reservations.

“It took me a good year to come to terms with trying to compete as a disabled person. I never would have considered myself to have a disability.

“I didn’t want to allow my condition to beat me. It wasn’t long before I realised that going to the Paralympics isn’t second best. I have this condition and I am not going to let it beat me. Going to the Paralympics was proving to myself that I was the super tough person I thought I was. The competition was fierce and you find yourself training alongside the Olympic team.”

Despite her initial reservations, Pam’s progress was remarkable – she want from rookie in 2010 to world champion in under a year, at the World Rowing Championships in Slovenia.

She won a gold medal in the Legs Trunk and Arms Mixed Coxed Four event alongside crewmates Naomi Riches, David Smith, James Roe and Lily van den Broecke, the cox. They completed the one kilometre course in a time of three minutes, 27.10 seconds, finishing nearly five seconds ahead of the second placed Canadian boat. The result meant that Great Britain qualified a boat for the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. The crew repeated their gold medal result at the Munich World Cup event in 2012.

The passion for her sport still burns bright and she trains two to three times a day, six days a week. Each training session is 90 minutes to two hours, so it’s five to six hours a day.

Pam, who is funded by UK Sport and the National Lottery, also enjoys public speaking engagements and is passionate about the empowerment of the disabled. She says: “Disabled provision is getting better, and sport is an amazing way of driving that forward. A lot of people when they think of disability think you have to be missing a limb or in a wheelchair, but a lot of people are like me with an invisible disability.”

Pam, who went to school in Wendover at John Colet, is also passionate about her roots in the Aylesbury Vale, and about Stoke Mandeville’s legacy as the birthplace of the Paralympics.“I am massively proud of the fact I come from here and I brag to everyone that I come from Stoke Mandeville. I feel very passionate that I come from the birthplace of the Paralympics. I was diagnosed at Stoke Mandeville when I was seven.”

Perhaps one of her proudest moments came in 2013 when she was awarded an MBE by Prince Charles: “I told him I share his birthday. He said all the best people are Scorpios – he was lovely, really chatty and funny.”

All of this glory is a far cry from the awful moment in 2010 Pam learnt her Army career was over. “It was devastating at the time,” she says. “But you know what they say about every cloud - and my silver lining was rowing.”


Interview with Chelsea and England star Fran Kirby - What does your darling daughter want to achieve? She could do worse than follow in the magical bootsteps of Fran Kirby, says Jan Raycroft


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Berkshire Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Berkshire Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Berkshire Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

The impressionist, actor, singer, writer and now pianist shares some thoughts on everything from music to the less welcome sounds of Heathrow before appearing in Berkshire

Read more

Unsurprisingly a common question our clients ask during their annual reviews is: “What effect will Brexit have on my investments and future plans?”

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Following in Harry and Meghan’s footsteps, Princess Eugenie will marry this October in Windsor Castle’s famous chapel

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ascot knows how to raise a glass or two, but might need a double as Absolutely Ascot is filmed, which seems a long gallop from reality in East Berkshire

Read more
Monday, September 10, 2018

Stoke Park’s chef has his first cookbook out, so you create culinary masterpieces at home to impress family and friends

Read more
Monday, August 20, 2018

Drew Burnett’s path to becoming a wildlife photographer is as extraordinary as the images he now captures for us all to enjoy

Read more
Monday, August 13, 2018

Some of the best ideas grow from a chat at the family dining table, and this one blossomed into products now delighting mothers across the country

Read more
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

While the sounds of national anthems as rowers collected gold medals yet again was once music to his ears, veteran coach Mike Spracklen is ringing the changes

Read more
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The former GB athlete shares the reasons why he loves returning home to Stockgrove, the beautiful spot you too could visit this summer

Read more
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Jax Meehan knows quite a bit about racing ahead, so when she tired of heading to the capital for her favourite ‘smart casual’ styles and labels she set up shop in her home town

Read more
Monday, July 16, 2018

Paul Kidby was mesmerised by the work of Bucks author Terry Pratchett and one day a phone call would lead to an extraordinary meeting of minds for the next two decades

Read more
Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Wokingham furniture designer recalls the moment he decided to tell his wife – and mother of their two young children – that his commuting days were coming to an end

Read more
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

We’ve chosen the visits marked on our calendar, but you can plot your own creative path through the work of some 500 artists and makers in 200 studios this month

Read more
Friday, May 25, 2018

In some cases a child’s ‘work of art’ can be the perfect therapy to help them cope with life’s difficulties and build healthy relationships

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Berkshire Life weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Latest Competitions & Offers

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Property Search