Out Paralympians digest: Lee Pearson

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Horses… They are beautiful! They are graceful in their movements, they are very strong! And maybe that is why they are so loved by disabled people – when you are unable to control your own body, you control someone so big and strong, a horse shares its gracefulness with you and you feel like never before – free….

But horses are not only helping disabled people psychologically and therapeutically – they also help- them to make a successful sport career, like it happened with Lee Pearson. Lee has had 14 major operations, has a form of scar tissue in his limbs where muscle should exist, and lives with plastic splints encasing his legs from hip to heel. Getting on a horse he considers to be the greatest achievement in his life.

“I was put in a broom cupboard for three days. I presume they didn’t think I would live,” says Pearson of his birth. “They had my mum sedated. On the third day, she came round and wanted to know if she had a baby that was alive or not. They pushed her in a wheelchair down to a broom cupboard with mattresses, and buckets, and mops — and there was a cot at the back with a blanket over it. So mum took a deep breath, because she thought if she reacted badly, the professionals would take me away.”

What the doctors would say if they knew that the baby boy who was not expected to survive would win 10 (!) Paralympic gold medals?! That he would become the most smiley and optimistic person ever? That even his own struggles would be remembered by him only with a smile? Pearson has, only half-jokingly, described his athletic preparation as “curry, Malibu and Coke” and tells tales of escorts to parties from local police at the Beijing Paralympics. Even as a child, Pearson made headlines. In 1980, while presenting the six-year-old with a Children of Courage award, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher carried Pearson up the staircase at 10 Downing Street.

“There are no muscles in my arms to actually bend my arms,” Pearson, who is an ambassador for the Midlands Air Ambulance, explained to CNN. “I can pull with the shoulders and I got into riding because I couldn’t pedal a bicycle.” The first animal he sat astride is a far cry from the high pedigree horses – such as gelding Zion — he has enjoyed so much success on. “There was a donkey in the local farmer’s field, so dad brought it home one day and plonked me on top,” added Pearson. Riding lessons followed, while his parents saved up for a pony that arrived two Christmases later. “That Christmas was amazing,” recalled Pearson. “From day one, though, the pony put his head down and went, ‘You’re not very balanced, you’re not very strong. I’m just going to buck you off every day.’ “When people chat to me about my childhood and getting into horses, they’re like, ‘Was it like the birds sang and the sun came out? Was it an amazing experience?’ “I’m like, ‘No, it was rubbish. I was frightened. I was pretty unbalanced and most ponies took advantage of me.'”

As for his motivation Lee said: “I still suffer with nerves and think, ‘Why am I putting myself through this torture?’ It’s not actually the love of winning- it’s that building of a partnership with a horse. Just riding horses every day keeps me going. And that threat of losing the mortgage.” As we see, humor still takes a great part of his life. And optimists always win. Good luck, Lee

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