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Paracanoeist Jeanette Chippington admits it's hard to imagine life without the thrill of competition

With the Paralympic Games in Tokyo having been pushed back until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Taplow paracanoeist Jeanette Chippington finds herself in a state of limbo.

The 49-year-old was preparing to peak for what may well have been her last Paralympic Games, however, she admitted this week she’d find it hard to turn her back on the sport if she could still be competitive.

Jeanette has competed in both swimming and paracanoe in five consecutive Paralympics, winning three gold medals, four silver and six bronze.

She was – until Tuesday lunchtime at least – still actively preparing for Tokyo 2020, but, with the situation changing on an almost daily, and government restrictions making it impossible to follow her usual training regime, she’ll now have to refocus her training for the games in 2021.

Speaking on Monday she said: “You have your doubts about whether it will go ahead. But, as athletes, you’re used to having stuff thrown at you.

“We’re given a lot of tools to deal with the mental side of things, but, as my coaches have said, the ones who get through this the best will be the ones who can adapt the easiest. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do by getting my boat from Dorney Lake so that I can get out on the river if that’s possible.”

Just a few days ago, Jeanette was still training at the world class Great Britain training facilities in Bisham Abbey and Dorney Lake. Those have now been closed while her access to her GB coaches and medical staff has also been cut off. Essentially, she’ll now have to train from home – on equipment lent by the Magnet Leisure Centre – and hope that government advice on social distancing doesn’t prevent her from training on the River Thames.

“It’s a difficult position to be in,” she said. “Do you carry on training and risk your health (by potentially contracting the coronavirus). Hopefully I can continue to go out on the river but it’s not the same without your GB coach.

“I was peaking for GB selection (which would have taken place in May). We’ve already qualified the boat so that was about trying to get my place in the boat. I’d been hitting speeds that were really good. Speeds I don’t normally see until the nicer weather comes along so I was feeling really positive.

“If that announcement is made to postpone the games (it was on Tuesday) we’ll just have to take a breather. But we’ll have to start thinking about training for next year right away. We were so close.

“As athletes you work on these four year cycles. There will be some who would have been planning a family. It’s going to be really tough. Last winter I was thinking ‘at least we won’t have to do this again next year’, now I’m thinking ‘oh no.’ And I can’t begin to contemplate a full lockdown. I’m so used to being outdoors and keeping fit. I’d really struggle with that, but if it does I’ll stay at home and try and keep as fit as possible.”

Jeanette admitted this week’s its hard for her to see a life after competition. She also coaches a swimming group at the Magnet Leisure Centre which she hopes to resume when the coronavirus pandemic passes and life gets back to normal.

“I’m not one to go ‘right, that’s it’. I was just going to wait and see what my results are. It’s an incredible situation to be in, you’re coached by the best and have access to high performance centres. It’s hard to think that won’t be in your life anymore.”

Jeanette Chippington, the Great British Para-canoeist, has a lot to thank the Magnet Leisure Centre for.

For years it’s been a hub where she’s trained for the five consecutive Paralympic Games she’s competed at.

And, in her hour of need this week and a lockdown coming into force due to coronavirus, the gym has lent her equipment so she can continue training for the Tokyo Paralympics – now pushed back 12 months to summer 2021.

But, through using the centre with SportsAble, she was also brought into contact with the man who became her husband.

Reflecting on what the Magnet means to her, she said: “I’ve always used the facilities and SportsAble in particular used to go there on Sundays. My husband used to help out there and that’s how we met. That was when we used the old pool.

“You’ve got that community feel at the Magnet. It’s that community hub. People could walk there to use the facilities and that won’t be so easy at the new centre when it’s built.

“But I’ve seen the plans for the new centre and it looks amazing. It’s going to be really special too.”

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