Spotlight On... Athletics

Fabienne Andre

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports - try them!  

Parasport's ‘Spotlight On…’ series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport - the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.  

In the latest instalment, we spoke to Fabienne André, who is currently in Tokyo to compete in the 100m and 800m T34 women’s wheelchair races. She finished fifth in the 100m and has the 800m final on Saturday.

Athletics is one of the most popular Paralympic events and spans a variety of disciplines from running to throwing to jumping to wheelchair racing. Fabienne told us about how she made the switch from swimming to athletics and her advice for others thinking of trying out the sport.  

Tell us about how you got into athletics and your progression to where you are today 

“I actually started in swimming because I had an operation and it was part of my rehabilitation. I then found there was a sport for me but I didn't start until quite late. 

“I didn't really know about accessible sports or parasport until that point so I was really happy to find sport and then it opened up a wealth of opportunities.  

“I competed in swimming for a little while and then I felt I wanted a new challenge. My ideal initially was to do paratriathlon, because I wanted to try loads of different sports and it was a really exciting opportunity to see this world I hadn't really experienced. 

“I went over to the track in order to learn one of the disciplines for paratriathlon, but then ended up sticking with the track.

“I did quite well and progressed quite quickly in terms of athletics, and I just really enjoy competing. I think in swimming, I'd got as far as I was going to and that's why I changed over.  

“You never know where the path is going take you. For me at the moment it's athletics and I'm absolutely loving it. I've been doing athletics for two-and-a-half years now and I’m quite surprised to be [at Tokyo 2020], to be honest!” 

Why athletics over other sports?  

“In swimming, I had a real sense of freedom in the water, but I didn't experience the same kind of speed and I think that's a difference with athletics.

“It's just really thrilling to go really quickly in a race scenario.

“I also really enjoy that although you're competing for yourself individually, there is a real team environment.” 

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport? 

“I just wish I’d found it earlier. If I had, I probably would have tried a lot more sports a lot sooner.” 

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far?  

“This [Tokyo] is going to be incredible and I'm really excited for whatever comes from it. 

“I'm just here to enjoy the experience. I've got no expectations and I'm just really looking forward to taking it all in.  

“But I think the Europeans [in June 2021] was probably the best so far because again, I went into that with no expectations. I wasn't expecting to compete and came away with two gold medals.  

“It was just an incredible experience and a massive step for me, but ultimately I just enjoyed it. That's the thing that I hold really important to me - just enjoy what you do.” 

What's the best thing about athletics? 

“There's just so much variation in the classifications, in the disciplines: you've got long jump, you've got running, you've got wheelchair racing, and you've got seated throwers, there's just so much variety. 

“I also didn’t quite appreciate how hard it would be – you think it won’t be too difficult but there's so much technicality to every individual discipline within athletics.   

“I don't think you appreciate that until you start training to compete but equally, you can just go and have fun and enjoy it.  

“There's a really good mix across athletics for people that do it for fun and for the social side and then there's really a growing competitive team, which is great.” 

What’s something only an athlete would know or appreciate? 

“In wheelchair racing, I don't think you're a racer until you've fallen out of your chair for one thing.  

“The other thing is that you will always have massive knuckles because you push the chairs in a bit of a different way to how you push your day chair. You end up with blisters and I’m always taping my hands.”  

What would you say to someone considering trying athletics? 

“If you don't know what you want to do, try it all. You never know what doors are going to be opened and it's never too late or too early to try something.  

“There are so many incredible clubs across the UK and the Parasport website is amazing for finding all the different kinds of accessible sports. 

“There's so much out there and there's so much online content as well, which is great.  

“Whatever you choose, try and enjoy it!” 

Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give athletics a try? Check out our club finder!