European championships can help Emma realise her London 2012 dream

Emma Wiggs with some of her GB women's sitting volleyball team-mates
Emma Wiggs with some of her GB women's sitting volleyball team-mates

Bognor’s would-be Paralympian is hoping to work her way towards London 2012 this week at her sport’s European championships.

Emma Wiggs, a teacher at The Regis School, is captain of the GB women’s sitting volleyball team who are inching their way towards qualification for next year’s games.

After contracting a serious virus which damaged her nervous system more than a decade ago, she was left with lower limb paralysis which left her unable to pursue the sports she loved as a child.

Determined not to let this get in her way, Emma discovered a love for a team sport with a twist: sitting volleyball, a form of volleyball adapted to allow anyone to play.

Within two weeks, Emma had attended a training camp and was soon establishing herself as specialist in the setter position for the GB women’s team.

As a relatively new international athlete, Emma admits she is learning constantly but has been earning her stripes within the team.

She has led the GB team through the world championships and the Continental Cup in Ukraine and the determined 31-year-old now has her sights set firmly on making it to 2012.

Sitting Volleyball has enjoyed full Paralympic status since 1980 and the GB women are now waiting to hear if they will qualify for the host nation’s slot at the London 2012 Games.

Emma says: “Just having the opportunity to be part of a GB team and to be there next year is inspiring and mind-blowing. My life has changed beyond all recognition since I contracted my virus and got involved in sitting volleyball. I am now an international athlete with a huge goal to work towards.

“I am lucky enough to have a very supportive family and friends who inspire me every day but the biggest inspiration of all is the thought that I have gone from schoolteacher, to international athlete – and now I have the opportunity to compete at the home Paralympic Games.”

Before setting off for this week’s Euros, Wiggs said: “As a squad the GB sitting volleyball women’s team are hugely excited by the opportunity to compete at the European Championships and show the progress we have made, both as individuals and as a team. The team have been working extremely hard over the past 12 months in the gym and on court, putting in well over 20 hours a week of training.

“We have just returned from competing at the Continental Cup in Ukraine, where we performed well against six of the best teams in the world. The Europeans offer us a real chance to continue our development and growth as a cohesive team and gain the credibility vote from the British Paralympic Association (BPA) for our host nation spot next year.

“Six players have been part of the talent transition programme run by the BPA in Bath and received outstanding support from world-class practitioners as we strive to realise our dream of being an athlete competing at London 2012.

“Day to day it is hard work balancing a job with full-time training as well as working out where I will be each night! But I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m very lucky to have an amazingly supportive employer at The Regis School who support me and follow my journey.

“Team morale is high within the squad and, with the expert support of our staff and management team, we leave the UK in high spirits. We feel confident we will perform well, achieve our goals and gain the credibility we need to be part of the biggest sporting show in the universe.”

To find out more about Sitting Volleyball please visit www.volleyballengland.org

Read about Emma and another Paralympic hopeful from Chichester in the Observer - out on Thursday morning.