DOUBLE Paralympic gold medallist Stephanie Millward is out to prove British Para Swimming wrong after being given a huge boost in her bid to make it to Tokyo 2020 after receiving backing from Hitachi Capital UK.
The 35-year-old swimmer saw her dreams of competing at a third Games, having only made her Paralympic bow at the age of 30, hit when British Swimming decided to axe her funding.
Millward, from Box, has racked up nine Paralympic medals at the last two Games, including two golds in Rio last summer, but was omitted from British Para Swimming’s Podium Programme for 2017, with only a reduced list of 14 athletes receiving the highest level of funding from UK Sport, to leave her future in the sport in tatters.
Millward, who was awarded an MBE for her exploits in Rio, vowed not to give up and despite losing a private hearing in London earlier this year, carried on swimming as she even took up a second job to help her pay for her training at Bath.
“It was a massive blow when I didn’t get the funding because I thought two gold medals and five in total at Rio would have been enough to secure a place in the team,” she explained, having secured a job working for the Springfield Community Centre in Corsham, teaching swimming.
“I had to take them to court but I had a barrister fighting my corner and they had a QC, so I had lost the race before it had even begun.
“They made a big point of my age, saying I was too old to be eligible for Tokyo, even though using the criteria they were using, I would have been too old in Rio and too old at London (2012).
“They also said my mind-set was awful but if you speak to anybody, my mind-set is incredible.
“I thought I have got to find a way of making the money to go to Tokyo.”
Now, her bid to add to her medal tally in Tokyo was given a shot in the arm this week after she announced that Hitachi Capital UK, who have a site in Trowbridge, will sponsor her after doing some paid motivational speeches for the company.
The funding means that Millward, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 17, can continue with 10 swimming sessions a week, as well as three or four gym sessions and her coaches.
“I’m thinking, how many medals can I win?,” she said.“The setback has almost given me the motivation to say: ‘I’ll teach you that my mind-set is fantastic’ and ‘I’ll teach you that age isn’t a barrier’.”