The Sussex Paralympian taking inspiration from Arsenal star Bukayo Saka
Bukayo Saka's Euro 2020 heartbreak isn’t stopping Bognor Regis boccia star Louis Saunders taking inspiration from his precocious sporting story.
Saunders, 19, will be the youngest member of ParalympicsGB’s nine-strong boccia team heading to Tokyo 2020 after being officially selected for the Games in Japan this summer.
The versatile south coast star recently studied A-levels in Geography, History and Biology and away from boccia – a precision, ball-based sport aimed at athletes with severe physical disabilities – is setting his sights on reading International Development at the University of Sussex.
Saunders is an avid Arsenal fan and watched in horror as Saka, also 19, miss the crucial penalty as Gareth Southgate’s England heroes suffered European Championship final heartbreak against Italy.
That’s done nothing to diminish his admiration for the Gunners star and proud Saunders, one of over 1,000 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, said: “It means so much to me and it’s an unbelieving feeling to be selected to represent ParalympicsGB.
“I’ve been working on this for a really, really long time so it’s an amazing feeling to actually be selected.
“I’m so, so excited for the Games this August. To be selected for ParalympicsGB is astonishing – my whole journey over the last five or six years has been an amazing experience for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing where I can take this and I feel unbelievably proud.”
Admiring Saunders added: “I’m a massive Arsenal fan – I watch the games whenever I can on TV.
“My idol at the moment is Bukayo Saka – I think he’s absolutely brilliant. I think he’s about 20 days older than me – the way he’s playing at that level at such a young age, I just hope that I can reach a similar level in my own sport at that age.
“I loved watching him at the Euros. I want to show and develop the skills that he has, because I just think he’s awesome.”
Saunders’ thrilling boccia career has been powered by UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme that allows him to train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
He first started the sport after realising wheelchair tennis wasn’t for him and booked his place in Japan with a sparkling performance at the 2019 European Championships.
Saunders scooped silver in the BC4 category alongside Stephen McGuire and Evie Edwards in Seville to successfully secure a spot on the plane and complete a rapid boccia rise.
He’s now hoping to add to the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding in 1997 in Japan and Saunders, who’s now been involved in the Boccia UK setup for the last year, added: “I’m just so proud to be able to represent ParalympicsGB and all the people who have been supporting me on his journey.
“There are hundreds of people behind the scenes who have done their little bit to help get me where I am today, so I’m just so proud and so excited for this summer.
“I really hope I can perform as well as I can, have an amazing experience and learn from it to go to future Paralympics.”
by Will Jennings
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