Wheelchair rugby star Kylie Grimes feels “absolutely empowered” to be flying the flag for womankind at the Tokyo Paralympics and hopes to inspire further female participation in the sport.
Great Britain’s 12-person squad for the forthcoming Games was revealed on Wednesday, with Grimes’ inclusion preventing it from being an all-male affair.
The 33-year-old was previously part of the team which finished fifth at London 2012 before competing individually in the club throw at Rio 2016.
She described being back for another shot at Paralympic rugby gold as the “best feeling in the world” and “slightly overwhelming”.
“I went away for a few years but to be back with the boys and in my team just feels like coming home,” she told the PA news agency. “It’s the best feeling in the world.
“I’m absolutely empowered to be a female in this sport. Some people say to me, ‘Do you feel intimidated? Nervous?’ Not at all.
“I absolutely love it. I feel strong, I feel empowered every day to play this sport.
“Pulling on a GB vest, regardless of what sport I am doing, representing my country is the best thing in the world but to be back with the boys where I feel I belong is unbelievable.
“When I am playing with the boys on court, we are just team players, they don’t treat me any differently, they don’t go any easier on me.
“It’s slightly overwhelming for me this time. I wasn’t really fully expecting it, I wanted to be in the team, of course I did, but you never quite know until the actual announcement.
“To be one of the names on the team was an amazing feeling.”
Captained by Chris Ryan and Gavin Walker, the squad also includes Ayaz Bhuta, Jonathan Coggan, Ryan Cowling, Nick Cummins, Aaron Phipps, Jim Roberts, Stuart Robinson, Jack Smith and Jamie Stead.
Grimes, who hails from Farnham in Surrey, sustained her spinal injury during a swimming pool accident in 2006.
She began playing wheelchair rugby recreationally a couple of years later – leading to successful GB trials in 2011 – and is eager to set an example for other people who have suffered life-changing injuries, particularly women.
“I love being the only female but, at the same time, I love having females in the sport in general,” she said.
“Trying to get other women involved is one of my biggest aims; I have done it ever since I have been there and to see the growth already is amazing within the UK and worldwide, with all the females that now play.
“I love being a role model for people; I want people to be better, to do more, to see what they can do with their lives, their potential. When you have a spinal injury, it doesn’t mean your life is over, far from it.
“I have such a fulfilling life and I always want to be better. I want to travel the world, I want to play these sports and I want to show other people that they can do that too – it doesn’t have to stop you, having a spinal injury.
“If I can be that role model for them then I’m game and it will push me even further to do even more.”
Great Britain will face Canada, New Zealand and the United States in the group stage.
Joint team captain Ryan, who guided his country to glory at the last three European Championships, as well as the fifth-placed finish in Brazil five years ago, has high expectations.
“To be leading the team is a real honour, something I don’t take lightly,” said the 29-year-old, who was injured in a car crash aged 17.
“We’re aiming to win it. If we get on the podium we wouldn’t be annoyed when we came home, but we’re looking to win it.
“We feel we can beat all of the top teams but it is very close; the top five teams are all within one or two goals every time.”
Full Great Britain squad: Chris Ryan, Gavin Walker, Ayaz Bhuta, Jonathan Coggan, Ryan Cowling, Nick Cummins, Kylie Grimes, Aaron Phipps, Jim Roberts, Stuart Robinson, Jack Smith, Jamie Stead.