Alexandra Rickham: Jamaican-born Paralympic bronze medallist
Two weeks after the end of the 2012 Paralympics, we caught up with British bronze medallist and skipper for the two-person keelboat (Skud18), 30-year old Alexandra Rickham, who was on her way to a well-deserved weekend break in the Lake District with her mother and sister, Elethia and Victoria Rickham.
Originally from St Ann's Bay, Rickham has just competed in her second consecutive Paralympics. She and her sailing partner Niki Birrell did not come away from Beijing four years ago with a medal, much to their regret. "It was disappointing, as when we arrived in Beijing, after competing, there was a big medal board and we hadn't contributed to it. We just felt awful," remembers Rickham. This time was different. "Although it had been a difficult week for us, to be able to contribute to the medal haul in the home Paralympics was amazing," stresses Alexandra. "It was nice to be on the other side of the coin."
"To be honest," Alexandra reveals, "the best moment of the entire Games for me was the Proms in the Park on the Saturday (day before closing ceremony). We'd finished racing on Thursday (the final race on Friday had been cancelled due to no wind). We all came up on the Southwest Train to London, and everyone on board knew that we were there because we were in our GB kit, and they wanted our photos with them," she continues with glee. "The atmosphere at the Proms was overwhelming, and the crowd considered us all winners. It was simply pure unadulterated excitement. And then the evening itself was filled with performances by Kylie Minogue, an orchestra, and rousing hymns like 'Land of Hope of Glory' and 'Jerusalem'," she gushes. "We felt like celebrities. When I took out my medal to show a friend, we got mobbed."
The following Monday, all the athletes from Team GB and Paralympics GB came together to parade through the streets of London. "I was on a float with the wheelchair rugby team," she reminisces. "There are no words for it, but I was totally blown away really. To have that many people in the streets (a reported one million), crying and shouting at the 800 of us, to see the whole nation react like that about sport, is quite remarkable. We'd woken up early that morning, and had to be ready by 9:30, having gone to bed at three after the closing ceremony. We then got a police escort from the Olympic Village down to Guildhall, which was quite surreal as we were cutting lights, and sailing through the city," she relates.
The week of racing for Alexandra Rickham had been "tougher than it has been in the past", she says. "But it was amazing to have people come out on their boats and cheer us on. Also to be on home waters was really special, and knowing that we had lots of supporters on land, even though we couldn't hear or see them. Then there was the support and team spirit amongst the GB team, which we could all rely on. And of course, at the end, to stand up on the podium in front of our friends and families was great," she recounts. "But for me, the high of the sailing itself was Helena's performance, because she literally sailed the regatta of her life and totally took down her competitors," boasts Alexandra proudly. Helena Lucas won the gold medal for the 2.4mR class in a single-handed small keelboat.
Despite their bronze medal achievement, Alexandra and Niki feel that there is some unfinished business, with regard to the Paralympics. "It was no secret that we were going to the GB Paralympics for a gold medal," Rickham shares. "Don't get me wrong, we look back and we are happy, but we do want a gold medal. We were favourites to win, and we had a target to beat USA, Australia and Canada," she goes on. "And then things happened that were beyond our control -- an hour before we went out for our first race (of the scheduled 11), they changed the rules about the way in which Niki sat on his seat in the boat. We didn't feel that our seating should be changed at the last hour, but it's just how it is, and other sports have similar things which occur," Alexandra informs.
Will that mean that Brazil 2016 is a distinct possibility for the duo? "It is a lot to ask of ourselves, to achieve as much of ourselves as we have done in the last four years," Rickham says realistically. "And of course there are other British contenders who can push us out. Only one boat goes, so we have to be the best at all times. We do have a lot of ideas of what we can do to change, and the older you are, the better you get, because you learn more. That being said, it will be important to maintain my health, especially with a disability (Alexandra became a tetraplegic after a diving accident when she was 13)," she says. We do not think that will ever be the reason to stop Alexandra Rickham from doing exactly what she wants, especially when it comes to sports.