Paralympic hero spent Tokyo volunteering during Covid crisis

By Oli Dickson-Jefford | There were few more deserving medalists at the Tokyo Paralympic Games than Yorkshire rower Ellen Buttrick.

The 26-year-old stepped onto the podium in the PR3 mixed coxswain, but it was her extraordinary and selfless preparation for the Games that made her the champion she is today.

As Olympic and Paralympic athletes around the world desperately tried to adapt their training regimes to the challenges and restrictions caused by Covid – Buttrick took it upon herself to add a secondary challenge to her roster.

The Yorkshire rower, whose elite sports career is supported by funding from the National Lottery, has divided her time between intensive training sessions on a rower and helping organize a team of community volunteers to Henley-on-Thames, his adopted home.

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As a zone coordinator for the Henley Covid-19 mutual aid group, the 24-year-old supervised a group of around 150 volunteers, helping those who were isolating themselves or were particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, she used her time outside of training to support refugees and asylum seekers as a volunteer with the Sanctuary Hosting charity. She is also a volunteer with Girlguiding UK and hopes to resume her work with both organizations once the social isolation measures are lifted.

“Before joining the team, I worked for the Refugee Council and volunteered for the British Red Cross.

“Then when I went to Reading and got full funding from the National Lottery to be an athlete, I thought I always wanted to help people and now I have the option to volunteer instead. than having to work for my money, ”said Buttrick. .

She was speaking at an event hosted by The National Lottery and UK Sport at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where young people from across the capital tried out new Olympic and Paralympic sports.

“During the pandemic, I did a lot of volunteering in the local community. We set up a local self-help group in the first week when Boris Johnson announced the lockdown.

“That’s literally what I think my job is to work hard and try to win medals – and show the nation that it can achieve what it wants to do too.

“When the Games were postponed it was like ‘Well what am I supposed to do now?’ and I thought what we needed in society was to help each other out and get through this as a community, so I worked to help set up this group in our area.

“We made sure the people protecting had everything they needed. In between sessions if someone called me I would jump off the rower and run to get their prescription ticket or I could tie it to a workout so with my bike rides I could check people and make sure they were okay that day.

“I really believe in volunteering,” she continued. “I think, especially in sport, I wouldn’t be here without the volunteers, without my rowing club and I think it’s such an amazing thing that gives you so much as a person to be able to give back to people. I am very passionate about it.

Buttrick was attending the University of Northumbria when her vision started to deteriorate, and she was then referred to the hospital to find that she needed more than new glasses, as she had initially assumed.

She was diagnosed with Stargardt’s macular degeneration, a genetic eye disease that results in progressive vision loss.

During a period of her life when she was enjoying life in college, preparing for her degree, and constantly improving her rowing, Buttrick had just discovered that her vision was going to get worse.

Rather than give up, she channeled her determination into a new career as a Paralympic athlete.

“I think it is extremely important because of the investment from the National Lottery that we have put in elite sport that we are capitalizing on the profile of the Paralympic Games,” she added.

“The reason we are doing it is to try to make the nation active and to try to inspire people to play sports.

“Rowing for me has changed my life. When I found out in 2014 that I was visually impaired, I was 19 and it was rowing that kept me going.

“I didn’t really get upset, I thought about the opportunity that this represents – maybe I could go to the Paralympics. I have focused on this for the past seven years and the sports community is what brought me into this space.

“It would be nice if the rest of society had that, the community behind them to put it through.

“I think sometimes we are divided, especially in Great Britain, but I think sport is something that brings us all together and brings us together.

“Having events like this, meeting kids who are in sports clubs and showing them that someday they could go to the Paralympics, I never met an elite athlete until I myself am in the team so that I can meet people like children. a fire in them.

The support of National Lottery players, GB Paralympics athletes and community sport is vital. If you’ve been inspired and want to explore your Paralympic and Olympic potential, visit

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