ParalympicsGB flag bearer John Stubbs opens up about heartbreaking year

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Archer John Stubbs, 56, is the oldest member of the ParalympicsGB squad (Picture: imagecomms)
Archer John Stubbs, 56, is the oldest member of the ParalympicsGB squad (Picture: imagecomms)

From Charlie Bennett in Tokyo 

Few athletes have a comeback story quite like John Stubbs and Britain’s oldest Paralympian in Tokyo says the Games gave him a meaning for life during the Covid pandemic.

The 56-year-old is the grandfather of the British team and waved the flag alongside swimmer Ellie Simmonds - 30 years his junior - at today's opening ceremony.

Stubbs is bidding to win a second archery gold medal 32 years on from the accident which changed his life.

He was riding a motorbike home from work when he was knocked into a field by one car, and then run over by a second, while his life was saved by a passing doctor.

Stubbs, who had just become a father, still required a 68-pint blood transfusion and had his right leg amputated and he admits he struggled with mental health in the years after and attempted to drown himself in a local pond.

He says archery saved his life and, after a year that has seen many of society’s most vulnerable forced into isolation, believes the Paralympics have been the light at the end of the tunnel.

“You are talking to somebody that’s suffered with really bad psychology and mental health issues,” he said.

“I am not embarrassed to say that I suffered with mental health issues after my accident. Covid has done us no favours if you like.

“But the Games being postponed and then announced they were going on 12 months later in 2021, it gave everyone with a disability aspiring to be on the team a meaning for life.

“To be honest with you, who knows where a lot of us might be.”

Carrying the flag was a highlight in an otherwise difficult year for Stubbs, whose father died of cancer in January.

He was training in Lilleshall when the call came to dash home and admits speed limits didn’t exist as he drove to Manchester.

“I got to my dad and by this time he’d basically received that morphine injection to kill the pain, but we all know what happens when you’ve got cancer, it’s a way of euthanasia if you like,” he added.

“So I got there and I actually lay by my dad and gave him a hug. He didn’t really know I was there and effectively he actually died in my arms.

“It was the worst thing ever but I’m so glad that I got there and I was there with the rest of my family to bid my goodbyes if you like."

Stubbs, who worked as a fabrication engineer before his accident, first competed in the Paralympics 13 years ago in Beijing and won gold in the individual compound event, before adding a team silver in Rio.

“I have been an elite athlete for a long period of time, but it has been a minority sport. We don’t get the coverage there that other sports get," said Stubbs, who is able to train full-time and benefit from world class facilities, technology, coaching and support teams thanks to National Lottery funding.

“I was extremely proud and honoured to not just fly the flag for GB but also fly the flag for my sport.”

No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £36 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtags: #TNLAthletes #MakeAmazingHappen

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