18 June 2012

Racking up gold medals

SHARON Jones-Barnes is a para-badminton champion and award-winning coach for residents and injured UK soldiers returning from Iraq – quite a resume for someone who only started playing the game seriously four years ago.

And if that isn’t enough, she has also been chosen to carry the Paralympic torch in August.

In 2007, the former legal secretary had a partial leg amputation. Over the next couple of years, she endured a spinal cord stroke, temporary paralysis from the neck down and a heart attack.

During her recovery, the 47-year-old, who also has diabetes, discovered the joys of disability badminton at the birthplace of the Paralympics.

“After my heart attack my physiotherapist took me to disability sports events at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Buckinghamshire.

“I heard this sound – shuttles being hit in the background behind curtains. It was there I met Herman Fung, who became my coach. He let me have a go and I never stopped,” recalls Sharon.

Today, her training regime will see her do arm work at the gym, followed by hours of badminton practice, playing against disabled and non-disabled competitors.

In 2010, the Council’s 2012 unit secured funding to support her development as a sportswoman with disabilities and source a customised sports wheelchair.

“It’s a lot lighter, super-light; the only way I can describe it is, it has the speed and movement of ice skates, compared to a normal chair that is more like roller-skates,” she says.

“Hackney has supported me and disability sports officer Tom Smith has been brilliant in helping me get funding,” she adds.

So far, Sharon has won the Four Nations Championship ladies and mixed doubles for England, come third in ladies singles, and last year earned a bronze for Team GB at the German International in Dortmund, pushing her ‘to play the very best’.

Sharon, who is based in Shoreditch, also coaches residents with and without disabilities in borough sports centres, while inspiring others to take up badminton.

She reflects: “When I was in hospital I had a lot of time to think. Helping people, I thought, that would keep me off the streets.”

After completing her coaching certificates, she set up a mixed-ability badminton academy in Hackney with Fung last year, with support from the 2012 unit.

“We had about 26 players in each class and with only two coaches. It was totally crazy, but fun,” she says.

The para-badminton star has also given sessions at the rehabilitation centre for injured members of the British Armed Forces, Headley Court.

“That was absolutely brilliant. They loved the game and the centre is now taking it up as part of rehabilitation,” she says.

“Being in a wheelchair, people sometimes look at you differently, but when they see what you can do they tend to stick with you and want to find out more.”

Sharon continues: “And you get so much out of coaching. I’m proud of the work I do and the progress I see. I get a kick out of it; starting someone who’s fresh, who has never played before, and making them see the benefits. It’s like wow.”

This work has not gone unnoticed: she received a Hackney Sports Award last year; was nominated for a London Proactive 2012 gong last month; and was chosen to carry the Paralympic torch.

“Oh, the torch! It was all a bit cloak and dagger,” she remembers. Adding: “It was all really exciting, but I didn’t know until the day before the announcement, and suddenly I was to go to Trafalgar Square and speak on BBC News and wear the training gear. It’s a great opportunity and I’m really excited about it.

“Hopefully para-badminton will continue developing and you meet so many different types of people. It can develop self esteem and self motivation,” she concludes.

Curriculum Vitae: Sharon Jones-Barnes
1964    Born in Hackney
1980    Leaves Hackney Girls School
1981    Receptionist at architect Michael Ginn Associates
1989    Trains as a legal secretary
2006    Has a partial leg amputation
2011    Earns bronze at German International
2012    Wins gold at Four Nations Championship
2012    Named as a Paralympic torch bearer

• This article first appeared in Hackney Today on 18 June 2012


Para-badminton champion and award-winning coach, Sharon Jones-Barnes

Para-badminton champion and award-winning coach, Sharon Jones-Barnes

Para-badminton champion and award-winning coach, Sharon Jones-Barnes

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