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Paralympic sports - 06. September 2008.

Pearson proud to make history in Beijing

Being the first woman to represent Great Britain at the Paralympic Games in a sport once known as ‘murderball’ may not sound the like an enticing prospect to most women. But Josie Pearson would disagree.
Pearson will make history at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games when she becomes the first woman to represent Great Britain at wheelchair rugby.
After trying Paralympic athletics, Pearson chose rugby out of love of the game and first joined the GB squad just over 18 months ago. In November 2007 she was selected to join the elite pool of players competing for a spot in the Paralympic Games squad.
“I’m a real rookie, but this is an opportunity I am grabbing with both hands,” said the 22-year-old from Herefordshire.
“I didn’t realise that I was making history until I saw it in a newspaper. It’s an absolute honour to be the first woman to finally break into a very male dominated sport.”
Pearson partly owes her place to a new rule that has been introduced for the 2008 Games requiring each nation to include one woman if they are to enter a full squad of 12 players.  However, Troye Collins, Britain’s prolific scorer in Athens, insists that Pearson deserves her place on merit alone.
“In the beginning, when she was first selected I think everyone thought it was all a political game. Josie had to make a very tough decision whether to play rugby or track. She chose rugby and that just shows the love she has for the game.
“The bottom line is the squad believes, and she believes, she hasn’t just been selected because she’s a woman, but on merit. She can hold any position on court, she can fill any gap and play her role. She is a very keen and important figure in the squad and will help us achieve what we want to achieve.”
“In the beginning, I had my doubts about whether I’d done the right thing and it did come down the fact that I love rugby,” says Pearson, who plays her domestic rugby for Cardiff Pirates.
“So many people ask, ‘Do women play? Is it a mixed sport?’ I think me being brought out to Beijing is a first stepping stone for all women players.”
Collins agrees that it is a fundamental step towards attracting more women to wheelchair rugby. “Hopefully, having a couple of women at the Paralympic Games will attract other women to come and play. They might have to start in a male sport, but in years to come they might end up with their own league.
“It is a huge plus having Josie here. She fits in so well it’s like she has 11 brothers to look after her.”
Pearson acknowledges that such a full contact sport might not appeal to all women.
“Until now women have probably seen it as a sport which is not really accessible to them and not something they can do. It does look aggressive, and it can sound vicious, but actually it’s a lot more tactical than people think.
“It’s one of those adrenalin-rush sports. When I was racing there was never that real adrenalin rush you get when you are hitting another chair in rugby.”
Team GB’s wheelchair rugby squad get underway on Saturday 12th September with a first group match against New Zealand.
The Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games officially open on Saturday (6 September) and will see 11 days of competition before drawing to a close on 17 September.
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