Just two years after taking up adaptive rowing on the insistence of her GB oarswoman sister Monica,
Pamela Relph won a glorious Paralympic gold at Dorney Lake on Sunday.
The medal marked the triumphant end of a journey which saw her dream of a career as an officer in the Royal engineers end on medical grounds, succumbing to chronic arthritis.
From this low point in her life, Relph, from Weston Turville, was introduced to the GB Adaptive Rowing team by Monica and, after being classified as able to compete in the least-disabled of the Paralympic rowing divisions – the legs, trunks and arms mixed coxed fours – her life as a professional sportswoman began.
In the heats of the Paralympic regatta, the GB boat demonstrated the form that had seen them win last year’s World Championships in Slovenia, as they cruised to an emphatic three-length victory over USA.
Crucially though, this was in a slower time than arch-rivals Germany put up in winning their heat, which meant a showdown to savour in Sunday’s final.
In the medal race, GB suffered equipment malfunction beforehand, which meant a truncated warm-up for the crew and could have jepordised their chances.
But ‘Performance in Adversity’ was one of the teams motivational slogans according to Relph, who amidst the delirium of being a Paralympic gold medallist, still found time to speak to her local paper about her monumental achievement.
“We needed to make that slogan a reality,” she said. “Once we were on the start line, we were so determined nothing was going to stop us. This was our water, our crowd and our time and we had to put into practise all we had trained to do.”
Roared on by none other than the Duchess of Cambridge, a humble Relph said the crowd played a huge part in fighting off a spirited German effort.
“They were immense. We’d heard about ‘the Dorney roar’ from the Olympic crews that we train with’” she said.
“But until you actually experience it, you have no idea what it’s like and how it feels like everyone there has grabbed a blade and is pulling with you, we were never going to let anyone get past us with so many people on our side.
“I take my hat off to the German four though, who pushed us to be the best we could be. We were all physically shattered when we crossed the line.”
An emotional Relph, who came third in The Bucks Herald’s Sports Personality 2011 vote, was unable to control tears of happiness during the medal ceremony.
“I’m usually pretty strong emotionally, but when I saw Monica and the rest of my family afterwards, I just couldn’t keep it together,” Relph added
“I owe so much to those guys, but especially Mon, without whom I wouldn’t have even seen the inside of a boat, much less won Paralympic gold.”
The gold medallist will now have a rest in the Olympic Village at Stratford, together with a string of media commitments which will culminate in an open-topped bus parade with fellow Olympic and Paralympic medallists around Central London next Monday.
But why stop at one gold? Relph has confirmed she wants to represent Paralympics GB at the Rio Games in 2016.
The crew also have the historic honour of being part of a very select group of living people to be put on a stamp (pictured above). Her postbox in Weston Turville has also been painted gold this week.