Baker hoping Heritage Lottery Fund grant inspires future stars
As a child, Natasha Baker had no idea that a career as an elite athlete was possible for someone with a disability.
However, five Paralympic gold medals later she is hoping that a £1m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to preserve Paralympic history means every disabled person will be able to follow in her path.
It was as a ten-year-old that an awestruck Baker watched the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games and saw exactly what was possible.
And, with the National Paralympic Heritage Trust set to memorialise the country’s role in founding the Paralympic Games, Baker believes the increased visibility can inspire a new generation of stars to sporting greatness.
“People know what Paralympic sports are now,” said Baker. “I go into schools and say what I do and I’m not met by puzzled faces so it’s great to get out to the wider audience and just show that disabled people can do sport.
“The Games have developed so much since I started watching in 2000. I didn’t really know that disabled people could do sport and growing up with a disability it gave me an insight into what could be possible and that’s when I said I wanted to become a Paralympian.
“I don’t think many people realise that the Games started in their backyards and to be able to show that off thanks to this grant and for people to be able to learn about that is fantastic.
“When you hear your national anthem being played you feel so proud anyway but the fact that we all know that it all started in our country adds another element.
“After London we saw a huge growth but we need to keep that going and having somewhere that people can learn and be inspired by our movement is crucial.”
The grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund will see a dedicated display of historical artefacts at Stoke Mandeville – the birthplace of the Paralympic movement – as well as a nationwide programme of regional exhibitions.
And Baker is confident the display can have a poignant and life-changing impact on the lives of disabled people.
“Having the display at Stoke Mandeville where so many patients go in and are there for a long time facing life challenging things can be hugely influential,” she added.
“They can think ‘OK this has happened and it is rubbish but it’s not the end and I can go on and achieve amazing things.’
“I think that will be a massive inspiration and when people are in a horrible position psychologically it’s good to have another door opened where they can see that their life can take a turn for the better.
“I’m the first to say that I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my disability. I am truly grateful for that. If I had the choice to be able bodied I would choose disabled with five gold medals any day and that’s really important to get across.
“And it’s not just sport it shows that there are options available and people can carry on and go into a huge range of different things.”