She is a strong, talented disabled woman competing at the highest level in an overwhelmingly male-dominated sport. When it comes to role models at the London 2012 Paralympics, Kylie Grimes will take some beating.
Grimes is the sole female member of Britain’s wheelchair rugby squad. If that wasn’t enough to make her stand out, she died her hair bright red to celebrate her selection for April’s Paralympic test event.
She says she would love to be seen as a role model for other young disabled women. “I have always played male sports, I have always been a strong woman. I would love to be seen like that. I like to see strong, individual women.”
But Grimes – who played women’s rugby and netball for her county before she became disabled – is quick to point out that she doesn’t try to mimic the testosterone-fuelled attitude of her male team-mates.
“I believe I bring a different aspect to it,” she says. “Men have all this testosterone, it’s crazy.
“Women are very competitive, but in a different way. I think I bring a bit of calm and level-headedness when all the guys have all this testosterone running around. I just say, ‘calm down and think about what you are doing.’”
Despite wheelchair rugby’s well-earned reputation for aggression and physical contact – its nickname is “murderball” – Grimes says it is in reality a technical sport, with every player assigned their own specific task.
She believes Paralympians train at least as hard as Olympic athletes. “We don’t just have the training and skills, we have our disabilities to deal with and all the difficulties that we face each day. Sometimes I think we have to work doubly hard.”
Grimes says she would love Paralympians and Olympians to be seen as “equal” by the public.
And she agrees with the disabled artist Claire Cunningham, who has suggested that London 2012 should be about raising awareness that disability is “a normal state of the human condition”.
“If children saw disabilities every day they would not see it as anything different,” says Grimes, “the same way we see red buses every day.”
Her team-mate, Aaron Phipps, who describes Grimes as “just one of the lads”, is convinced that the mainly British crowd will push their team towards the medal they are desperate to win, and wants them to be “as noisy as they can possibly be”.
“There are going to be some really close-fought matches,” he says. “To have 10,500 people cheering us on is going to be absolutely massive, particularly because it is a high adrenaline, high octane sport we play.”
The former wheelchair-racer has been working for Hampshire County Council as an assistant London 2012 coordinator, where part of his role has been to visit schools and tell them about his sport, and his life as a disabled person, and try to “inspire as many young people as I can”.
He hopes the Paralympics will see people starting to follow wheelchair rugby in the same way they follow mainstream sports.
“It would be lovely if people sat in the pub talking about wheelchair rugby like they do about football,” he says.
The London 2012 wheelchair rugby tournament begins on Wednesday 5 September.
23 August 2012