Anne Dickins: Rio Paralympics canoeing champion hopes to have inspired others

Dickins (centre) with fellow para-canoeists after the KL3 200m single final at the Rio Paralympics

As Anne Dickins steps away from the world of elite sport after announcing her retirement, aged 50, she is already thinking of those who might follow in her wake.

The mother of two had to cope with big changes in her life after a back injury ended her participation in endurance mountain bike racing.

And, after an incredible few years that have seen her go from never having been in a canoe to winning a gold medal at the Rio Paralympics, she is ready to embrace new challenges and pass on what she has learnt to others.

“The last four years in elite sport couldn’t have gone any better and it would be difficult to top the experience,” says the 50-year-old.

“It’s been an amazing adventure but there are still so many other adventures in the world that I want to have.”

From a ‘dark place’ to podium place

It’s that positive attitude that was severely tested when Dickins, a physiotherapist by trade, ruptured a disc in her back following a freak combination of circumstances and found herself struggling to cope with the consequences.

She started to volunteer as a physio at cycling meetings and, as a result, was taken on as a Games Maker at London 2012.

“The whole Games in London were incredible and the dedication and commitment of the cyclists at the velodrome where I was working was palpable,” she reflects.

“It made me want to try a new sport just to see if I could do it.”

A chance conversation over a coffee with a fellow volunteer pointed her in the direction of Paracanoe – as a sport she could do despite her weak leg – and, within weeks, she had gone from a complete novice to being enrolled on the British Canoeing programme with her mind set on Rio.

“I was particularly inspired by Helen Glover’s story