A pandemic can mean many different things to different people across the world. It has been desolate, devastating and desperate for huge segments of the population. For Mary Wilson, the Covid-19 pandemic is a dream crusher. It leaves her hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics hanging by a thread.
Wilson, 56, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), is slowly making peace with the fact that time may not be on her side and she said that if in fact, she does manage to make it to Japan next year it will ‘be the best thing ever’.
"A year is a long time trying to train hard. I feel my body is going backwards. It (the MS) is affecting it,” she said in a phone conversation with AFP from her Edinburgh home which she shares with her partner Judi and their German Shepherd dog Max. “It is definitely going to affect my chances with an extra year.”
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Wilson reiterates though that the postponement was the correct thing to do. "To tell you the truth I think it should have been called off sooner," she said. "It dragged on a bit (the official announcement was made on Mar 24). People in other countries were dying."
Wilson herself was in Spain to attend a competition when the country went into lockdown after the coronavirus outbreak. “I went out walking and a police car went past and stopped,” she said. “The policeman threatened to handcuff me and take me to the station as I shouldn't have been out walking although I was unaware that was the case. They followed me back to the hotel to make sure I was going there."
Wilson was sent back on to Scotland soon after and has been following a thoroughly suitable training regime at home ever since. "I set up a programme each day, strength and conditioning from press-ups to sit-ups, lunges, calf raises," she said. "The kitchen is my gym. I do press-ups off the kitchen surface but I wear kitchen gloves as the surfaces are really sharp."
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Wilson has dealt with and overcome many incredible challenges after she was diagnosed with MS in 2004, a chronic neurological condition in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves.
She survived an attack at a military tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2008. Serving as a psychiatric nurse with Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps in 2008, Wilson was almost run over by a truck when she left her tent one evening.
"There were no lights in case we got mortared," she said. "I heard this vehicle behind me. He had a dimmed light on and he was driving faster and faster and tried to run me over. I managed to dive off the road."
Ten years later, her army training was helping here again after she was forced off a hotel bus at a gunpoint by a Ugandan policeman on her way to Kampala airport after a tournament. The taxi driver took her to a secluded spot and demanded $1,000 or else a trip to a police station.
"My army training kicked in there. I was very calm, I did not scream or shout," she said. “I came to an agreement with him, gave him some money and managed, unbeknownst to him, to take a photo of him. When I returned home I notified the authorities and he was arrested and jailed. At least he got his comeuppance."
Life as a para badminton player though isn’t a piece of cake. Wilson has often cited the expensive nature of the sport -- where competitors need adapted equipment along with transport -- as a huge burden on athletes themselves. Many of her competitors face the same struggles and are often funding themselves.
Since she started competing in 2017, Wilson estimates she has spent close to $62,000 just playing the sport. SApart from some funding from the charity Path to Success, Wilson makes do by skimming over her Army pension along with the legacy left to her by her late father. Qualifying for the Tokyo Games would have been a unique feather in her cap.
Aside from being a para badminton professional, Wilson has also climbed each of the Munros, a group of 282 mountains in Scotland that are over 914m high.
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