Kylie Grimes: Pushing boundaries to become the first woman to win a Paralympic gold medal in Wheelchair Rugby

Kylie is wearing her team GB Wheelchair rugby uniform in a huddle with five other players. Kylie has blonde hair in a bun.

From the age of five, Kylie always held the same ambition: to be an Olympian.

“I’ve been into sports my whole life. I’ve never been able to sit still – I just love to challenge myself and see what I’m capable of.”

Kylie sustained a C5-6 complete spinal cord injury aged 18, in a driving accident.

“It took about two or three years for me to really come out of myself after I sustained my injury. I became quite reserved and quiet – which isn’t like me at all. When you come out of hospital, you are faced with an inaccessible world. You feel different to other people, and it can be scary to ask for help. Things like asking people to open doors is intimidating at first.”

Meeting Back Up

While in Stanmore Spinal Unit, Kylie met Back Up through our Wheelchair Skills Sessions.

“The Wheelchair Skills trainers at Back Up came in to Stanmore, and taught us important skills that I still use to this day. I also learnt about the other services Back Up offers.”

“I signed up for mentoring as I was keen to speak to someone who could understand what I was going through. My mentor gave me practical advice, but also showed me that I could still do so many of the things I wanted to do, just in different ways.”

“Being the type of person who is always eager to push myself out of my comfort zone, I then signed up for Back Up’s Multi Activity course. We did outdoor activities like abseiling, rock climbing, and canoeing. Then, a few years later, I went on Back Up’s sit-skiing course. I had always wanted to try skiing, but thought it wasn’t possible because of my injury.”

“Back Up not only opened my eyes to all the possibilities that are out there, but helped build my confidence so I could go out and make the most of opportunities that came my way. These experiences showed me that I can ask for help, and helped me connect with people who can understand what I’m going through – I met so many friends through Back Up.”

Pushing boundaries

“After I went on Back Up’s sit-skiing course, I realised that I could travel again and was ready for my next adventure. So, me and my sister packed our bags and went on a trip to Asia. I handcycled throughout Vietnam and around Cambodia. Not only did I get to eat amazing food, and meet brilliant people, I learnt how to communicate with others about my injury in a way that I was comfortable with.”

“When I got back, I knew that now was the time to get into Wheelchair Rugby. I’m not really someone who tends to worry, but it did occur to me that at that time Wheelchair Rugby was seen as a male-dominated sport. But as soon as I got stuck in, I realized that it’s actually the wheelchair which takes the impact. So, the likelihood of getting injured is really low. And, once your in that environment, playing the sport, your confidence grows and you realise that you are a team – regardless of gender.”

“After training more than three times a week for around two years, I got selected for Team GB. I then made it to the European Champions, and we went home with a silver medal. It was such an incredible feeling.”

Going to the Games

In 2012, London hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Kylie is wearing her wheelchair rugby uniform for team GB. She is in the middle of a game and has blonde hair tied up in a bun. She looks very focused.

“I didn’t think I would be selected for the 2012 games. But when I found out I was, I was just so excited. I can remember all my family and friends were there watching me in the stands. Those games in particular, were some of my fondest memories. The atmosphere was amazing – it’s mind-blowing to think that was ten years ago!”

“After switching to Athletics for a few years, one of my Athletics coaches said to me ‘I think you still have unfinished business with Wheelchair Rugby’. It was amazing to compete in Athletics at the Paralympic Games in Rio and I was so proud to finish fourth. But, I also knew my coach was right. I had still been playing Wheelchair Rugby most weekends, and was really looking forward to being part of the team again.”

“I felt like I was welcomed back to Wheelchair Rugby with open arms. We then went on to win gold in Denmark in 2018, and became the European Champions. I then was part of the GB team to win our first ever gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.”

Taking home the gold

Kylie became the first woman ever to win a Paralympic gold medal in Wheelchair Rugby.

“I’m still buzzing about this achievement today! And, it’s been really special to see more women enter this sport at a national level. It really is a sport for everyone, and offers so many benefits.”

“I’ve always been one to push myself and embrace challenge. But, the person I am today is because of the incremental challenges I’ve overcome, which all add up. It started with just going outside, asking for help, and then pushing myself further to travel, and then to train at national level for a sport I love.”

“Sometimes people are surprised when I say I wouldn’t change my life at all – but I wouldn’t. I really love the place I am in now. I meet so many people with disabilities that regret not reaching out to different communities sooner. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it. When you have a community around you, and you’ve built up your confidence, you can start to see the world differently and you can attack challenges that come your way.”

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