When a back injury forced Andrea Green to give up playing her beloved volleyball and take three months off work, the Littleover woman hit a low.
But a chance meeting with GB officials of sitting volleyball – the Paralympic equivalent to standing volleyball – have set Green on the road to next year’s Games in London.
Although the inclusion of sitting volleyball on the Paralympic programme has yet to be rubber-stamped, with substantial funding and a Channel 4 documentary about the GB sitting volleyball squad to be aired in September, getting the thumbs-up for London 2012 seems merely a formality.
“The women’s programme was developed specifically for London 2012 but still has to prove credibility to be offered the host nation place in the Paralympic competition,” explained Green.
“We are making great progress, though, and are currently in training for the Continental Cup, which will take place in the Ukraine in September, and the European Championships in Holland the following month.”
Green first became interested in volleyball at Littleover Community School, where her teacher, Mrs Foxon, saw that she had a talent for the sport and encouraged her.
“I was 15 years old and it helped that Mrs Foxon was also interested in volleyball,” said Green.
“She encouraged me to join social side Derby Women, who played at the Shaftsbury Centre, and I eventually went on to represent England students, West Yorkshire and Bradford University while studying physiotherapy in Sheffield.”
Green continued to lead an active life but believes that a combination of travelling to Sheffield every day while training to be a physiotherapist and a reduced amount of exercise gradually resulted in her injury.
“I had originally worked as a fitness instructor for the likes of Derby City Council, Derby Students Union, Lady in Leisure and Breadsall Priory before going to uni, so I was quite active” she said.
“After University, I began going to the gym more often and increased my activity levels once more and believe that this didn’t help my back.
“I then got a job working as a physio at Derby Hospitals and it was only a few weeks into this that I began feeling some pain.
“I shrugged it off and continued to work through the pain.
“I was reluctant to go off sick as I had just started working and therefore continued to work in pain, discomfort and denial for a couple of months before my manager intervened and sent me home one day.
“I was off work for three months and it was revealed that I had disc herniation, resulting in nerve damage, that eventually led to a dropped foot.
“I could barely walk and had to teach myself how to do that all over again.
“I put weight on and lost a lot of my confidence. It was a really tough time.
“Eventually I felt well enough to return to work and got a new senior post in the community working part-time with adults with learning disabilities and set up my own business.
“I heard about a sitting volleyball awareness day in Loughborough and thought it would be fantastic to introduce to my client.
“Until that point, I’d never considered myself disabled.
“I became hooked and was invited to attend the GB programme training weekends.
“I’ve never looked back since.
“I was put through the six-month talent transition programme by the BPA at Bath University and found myself actually enjoying sitting volleyball more than standing volleyball; it’s a lot faster and your reactions need to be quicker.
“Because I’m only a minimally disabled athlete, it took a while to get used to shuffling around on my bottom when your natural instinct is to walk.”
Green’s life has been a rollercoaster since then.
Earlier this year, she was named the GB Women’s Sitting Volleyball Athlete of the year and has been appointed vice-captain of the side.
But still, she doesn’t consider herself extraordinary and prefers to talk about the amazing stories of some of her GB team-mates including Martine Wright, who lost both legs in the London 7/7 bombings in 2005.
“There really are some amazing people in the GB side and it’s an honour to work alongside them,” added Green, who can regularly be seen in the gym at Virgin Active or Derby College, Mackworth, when she’s not playing for the East Midlands Sitting Volleyball team in Loughborough.
“It is a brilliant sport and has brought pleasure to so many people.
“Although it would be fantastic to win a medal at next year’s Games, I think it’s more important to raise the profile of the sport because the majority is self-funded.
“Sitting Volleyball is played in several countries around the world with over 40 men’s teams and 20-plus women’s teams and it will be the result of a lot of hard work if we make it to the 2012 Olympics.”