Caz Walton honoured by SWOTY Lifetime Achievement Award
It was 1962 when a 15-year-old Caz Walton, on the advice of a physio from Great Ormond Street Hospital, made a life-changing trip to Stoke Mandeville.
Though Walton was a keen swimmer she had no idea that two years earlier the first Paralympic Games had taken place in Rome and certainly had no clue that the trip would be the beginning of a sporting legacy spanning nearly six decades.
That legacy includes ten official gold medals (though Walton missed out on Pentathlon gold due to a miscalculation in Tel Aviv 1968) as well as a host of silver and bronze medals across athletics, table tennis, swimming and fencing and being a part of the British Paralympic Association (BPA) since its inception in 1989.
With the exception of Rome 1960 Walton has played some part in every Paralympic Games and is still going strong with her continued work at the BPA - a commitment that has led to her being awarded The Sunday Times Sports Woman of the Year lifetime achievement award.
“We didn’t have a car so we went by train to Stoke Mandeville. It was a bit of a one-line cattle train and then we had to walk from the station which was a good three miles,” said Walton.
“It was for a national championships and as soon as I got there that was it – I was hooked. I realised straight away that sport was what I wanted to do and I never wanted anything else from the moment I arrived.
“I had the sheer arrogance of youth and thought I couldn’t be beaten and luckily some of that was right but it was sheer arrogance.
“I wanted to travel and see the world and be successful at the highest level and at that point I decided I wanted to go to Tokyo in 1964 which was two years away.”
Despite the arrogance of youth Walton missed out on selection for the Tokyo Games but got the call three weeks before the opening ceremony that someone had taken ill and she was in.
“I got chucked in at the last minute which meant there was less pressure and I hadn’t won anything so no one expected anything,” added Walton. “It was a remarkable Games.”
Tokyo 1964 saw Walton claim two gold medals in athletics, four years later she added three more golds to her collection (four including the miscalculated pentathlon) and at Heidelberg 1972 another four gold medals followed.
But it was Seoul 1988 that Walton remembers most fondly, where she claimed fencing gold against the odds – her last at Paralympic level.
“I hadn’t been performing well at all,” she said. “I did foil on the first day and was absolutely abysmal but the next day I won Epee gold and it was a very special moment.
“I was against a very good fencer from Hong Kong but it was one of those moments where you’ve got so much focus you can drop a bomb on the place and you wouldn’t notice.
“From the minute the final started I knew I was going to win it. I can remember it vividly it was incredible, there’s nothing like winning a medal and being in that zone where you are unflinching is a unique feeling.”
A year later the BPA was formed and Walton began her work with the organisation – at first on secondment from BT and full time from 1995.
Since then the Paralympic movement has continued to go from strength to strength and has grown into a global movement. So how does someone who has seen it all feel about the changes in the movement?
“I’m not a person that particularly enjoys the spotlight so I’m not sure I would have liked all the media that athletes have to do today.
“When I was competing, any stories tended to be human interest but now athletes are recognised for their ability. I would’ve given anything to be a full-time athlete instead of having to train after work on evenings and weekends.
“There’s been a complete evolution since that and it would have been interesting to be around nowadays and experienced that.
“To get to experience London 2012 and the packed stadiums was a real kick as well and, while I thought it would eventually become a global movement, I couldn’t have envisaged anything like that.”
After 55 years dedicated to para sport many would forgive Walton for bowing out of the sporting world but she is not among the forgiving majority.
“If you just walk away it’s a bit selfish and I want to try to give other people the opportunity that I have had. I’ve just enjoyed it all and had a ball.
“I’ve just been very lucky to work with such inspirational people that have kept me there. I have been so lucky with my colleagues throughout the years.
“It’s a huge honour to receive the SWOTY award but I feel like a bit of a fraud in a way because I’ve enjoyed it so much and to get an award for something you love is a bit of a bonus really.”