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Paralympic high for Sussex swimmer
When24-year-old swimmer Penny Clapcott lost her place in Team GB just months before Athens 2004, she thought her Paralympic dream was over.
But eight years later, she appeared in front of 80,000 spectators flanked by Stephen Hawking and Sir Ian McKellan.
Strapped in a harness and hoisted 20 metres above the stadium floor, she wowed a worldwide audience of some one billion in the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony.
She said: “Back in 2004 I would never have thought that I would be doing this, it’s amazing. It was a fantastic experience and I didn’t even feel nervous – I was just so excited.”
Penny, from Rustington, near Littlehampton, who is only 3ft tall and suffers from a brittle bone condition called osteogenesis, was a competitive swimmer in her early years.
After smashing a handful of world records by the time she was 14, she was a sure-fire pick for Team GB in Athens.
But just months before the team flew out, she became the victim of the reclassification system.
She had raced all her life in the S3 group, which saw her competing against peers of a similar height and disability. But while in training for the Games she was told she must race in the S5 class, which is made up mostly of paraplegics with full upper body strength.
She said: “I just couldn’t believe it. I was so disappointed, I had worked towards that dream for such a long time. But in hindsight it was probably a good thing. I got to go to university and do lots of new things.”
The teenager got over the disappointment of not making the team by taking up a new activity – circus skills.
She added: “It was more of a hobby back then but after this experience I would love to do something like that full-time.”
In February, Penny got the call to say she had the role. What followed was eight months of training to be part of a night she says she will never forget.