Having achieved the accolade of playing rugby for her country, Claire Harvey was at the top of her sporting career. But after an injury in 2008, her life was changed in a way few of us could imagine. That’s when Claire’s amazing journey really began.
What or who in your life inspired you and why?
That’s a hard question! Before my accident I think it probably has to be Zola Budd because not only did I admire the way she was very silent and just got on with doing her sport, but I loved the way she did it differently to everyone else. She stood by what she believed in no matter what the repercussions were.
After my accident I would have to say it’s my now best friend, Martine Wright. She was a victim of the 7/7 bombings and, as a consequence, underwent a double above-knee amputation. Over the past few years we’ve gone on a kind of journey together through sport and, whenever I feel sorry for myself, we perk each other up and constantly motivate each other.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve experienced?
I would have to say it was the time immediately after my accident. Everything I had built my previous identity around, I’d lost. I had to re-think who I was, what I could do and reshape my whole life. I didn’t know anything about disability at that point, so had nothing to anchor my life to or consider what life could be like moving forwards. That was a really hard time.
What was your lowest low and how did you climb out of it?
It has to be my accident. As I came to terms with my new life, I took the strategy of setting tiny targets every day rather than looking at the big picture. It was about focusing on achieving little things, one step at a time, and using the support and energy of the people around me to help me get there.
How did you find the self-belief to achieve what you did?
I don’t know if I ever thought ‘I can do this!’ and I’m still not sure that I do now. I think I just decided that I wanted to go as far as I could go in whatever I was doing. I never set a specific target of wanting to go the Paralympics; I just wanted to push myself to my limits by overcoming those smaller hurdles rather than looking at a longer term, bigger goal.
When did you feel like you had achieved your goal?
At the point of being in the opening ceremony of the Paralympics, that was the moment when I thought, wow, this really is all going to happen. Captaining the Sitting Volleyball team was a massive goal for me. It was an absolutely awesome experience – it gave me huge sense of pride, confidence, and absolute pure fear all rolled into one.
It was great just being part of such a big event and particularly that it was a home games. Having had my accident back in 2008, I watched the Beijing Olympics whilst I was in rehab. So to then be at the next games four years later and captain a team was incredible. Also being at London 2012, everyone who helped me on my journey to that point was able to be a part of it too. To know that they were in the crowd and sharing that moment with me, that was my way of saying thank you to them.
Who is the woman that you admire most and why?
Aside from my best friend, Baroness Sue Campbell is another lady I greatly admire because I think she has stood for the importance of Physical Education and sport in schools when nobody else was prepared to. She stood very much alone for a long time but she stuck by that and never faltered from her beliefs no matter what.
What advice would you give to other women about self-belief?
I would say try not to look at the big picture and set yourself small steps to start your journey. I have a favourite saying which is, “You don’t need to see the end of the staircase to take the first step.”
What lessons have you learned that you could share with others?
I learnt that you absolutely cannot control what happens in life but you can control how you manage and approach it. If you just keep going with tiny goals, never give up and always keep trying to find a way of achieving what you want, then you ultimately will.
Is there anything you would do differently using the wisdom you have now?
I would say if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to ask and to surround yourself with positive people.