A year ago, Emma Wiggs had never played sitting volleyball. Now she is looking forward to captaining the GB women’s team at next year’s Paralympics in London.
The 30-year-old was set on the road to the 2012 Games when she attended a sporting talent identification day which ended with her being a target for bosses of five different Paralympic sports.
She chose sitting volleyball - and now she freely admits it has taken over her life.
The PE teacher has had to change jobs and give away her dog and now spends three evenings a week in London - and many hours a week in the gym - building up to her big moment.
Wiggs is excited about representing her country in its home Paralympics.
Wiggs, who was left disabled by a serious virus which damaged her vervous system while she was on her gap year in Australia, said: “It all started in January last year, really.
“I went to a UK Sport Talent ID day which was all abvout discovering sporting talent in people who didn’t realise what they had.
“My friends told me to do it and IU was picked out by five Paralympic sports - basketball, sitting volleyball, fencing, shooting and athletics. I wanted to go for a team sport and I had taught sitting volleyball although not played it.
“I was invited to a volleyball camp which was very physically demanding and I made the GB women’s squad. Even on the talent day, the coach said to me: “What are you doing in July because we’re going to the world championships in America?” It was unbelievable.”
Wiggs had to leave her job at Lavant House School to pursue her new-found dream, but she said she was fortunate to have found a post at The Regis School, Bognor, where everyone had been hugely supportive.
“We went to the worlds and won bronze in division B, which was really good for a team formed only the previous year.
“We’re now on a propgramme of monthly training camps, and three times a week we meet in London for training, which I have to drive to. And I’m in the gym five times a week.”
Wiggs, who combined a sports science degree with teacher training at Chichester University after her gap year, will have to leave her teaching post at the end of the academic year to devote more time to volleyball.
Although there is funding for the sport, it pays for equipment and the running of the team rather than covering the cost of individual squad members. Wiggs, who lives in East Lavant, is on the talented athlete sponsorship (TAS) scheme but will need to find other sources of income.
But she is jubilant just to be involved.
“I can’t believe I’m doing something so physically demanding. There’s so much work that goes into strength and conditioning. We’re showing that disabled people can push themselves to the limit.
“Channel 4 are going to televise the Paralympics and will do a lot in the lead-up to the Games about what’s happening behind the scenes, which will be great for disabled sport.
“The GB squad have been on the T4 channel already - and the good thing about that is loads of young people watch it. I’ve had pupils coming up to me and saying they saw me on telly!”
One challenge ahead of Wiggs and her fellow players is to secure their place at the 2012 Games. As hosts, they should make it - but have to keep performing well internationally to make sure.
There are 14 regulars in the squad but only ten will go to the Paralympics, but as captain Wiggs is confident she will be one of them.
There are tournaments throughout the year and in October, she expects to know what the plans are for the Games.
These take place just after the Olympics and in the same venues. The sitting volleyball will be played in the Excel Centre, the spot where the Olympic boxing will be held.
And if you’re not sure what sitting volleyball is, well, it does what it says on the tin, Wiggs said.
“I play it with the kids at the school and they love it. Bascially it’s the same as volleyball but your backside has to be on the floor. The net is lower and it’s much faster than volleyball. It’s a very misunderstood game - but hopefully won’t be after the Paralympics.”