Favourite Colour: Blue!
Favourite Food: Cheese & Beans on toast or Korma
Height: ? Small !!
Year of Birth: 1974
Likes: People, all horses, cars, boys' toys!
Dislikes: War, Brussels sprouts!
Riding Hat: Charles Owen
Saddlery: Bolton Gate, Meir, Stoke-on-Trent
The following are reports from the Daily Telegraph:
'I feel lucky that I have found my talent, what riding has given me is respect'
When Lynda Pearson gave birth to the youngest of her three sons by Caesarean section 30 years ago, she was
kept sedated for 36 hours after the operation. When she finally regained consciousness, Lynda knew something was worryingly
wrong when she heard one nurse hiss to another: "Sssshh, she's coming round."
Having been told of the subsequent events when he was of an age to regard the incident with black humour rather
than mortification or anger, Lee Pearson takes up his mother's tale. "The nurses wouldn't reply to any of her questions and
although mum's very passive, when riled, she's a force to be reckoned with. 'If I've got a live child – whatever the
circumstances – I want to see him or her right now,' she demanded. 'And if I haven't, then I want to be told.' "
What happened next is a shameful scene from the Dark Ages. "She was put in a wheelchair and pushed down a
corridor surrounded by a team of about 10 doctors, nurses and psychologists. Finally they stopped at a broom cupboard and
there, in the middle of the pile of mops and buckets, was a crib with a cloth over the top.
"Remember this was 1974 not 1874, but I suppose I was not a pretty sight; my right foot was wrapped round
my left knee, my left foot was wrapped round my right knee, my arms and hands were horribly twisted and I had an ugly birthmark
covering half my face and the top of my head. Mum took a gulp, picked me up and gave the first of a million cuddles."
Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita – "the muscles in my arms and legs grew as scar tissue
in the womb" – which left his matchstick limbs bent and warped, the baby in the cupboard has grown into one of the nation's
most successful sportsmen. Wearing plastic splints running from his backside to his heels, Pearson has won 6 Paralympic games
dressage gold medals (three apiece from Athens and Sydney), five World Championship and three European titles, plus a notable
victory in an able-bodied national championship event at Hickstead. "That meant a lot to me, as did being voted BBC Midlands
Sports Personality of the Year, because it's nice to take on and beat athletes without disabilities."
And it is for those accomplishments , not because he happens to be physically impaired, that Lee Pearson (hobbies:
quad bikes, jet skis, clubbing until all hours and delivering more double entendres than Julian Clary) is also the runaway
winner of this column's Sportsman of 2004 Award.
He first came to public attention at the age of six, by which time he had already undergone 15 operations,
when Margaret Thatcher carried him up the staircase of 10 Downing Street to receive his 1980 Children of Courage Award, melting
the Iron Lady's heart with his cheeky grin and delighted chuckles. "I don't know why, but she just took a shine to me. When
she bent down to pick me up my dad said, 'I'd better carry Lee, he's heavier than he looks', to which the Prime Minister replied
firmly 'I'll carry him'."
At that time, young Lee attended a special needs school near his home in the Staffordshire village of Cheddleton,
until Lynda and Dave Pearson cajoled a local mainstream school into accepting their son.
"Mum and dad were determined to make my life as normal as they possibly could. After all, what is a disability?
Sitting here in this restaurant, you need glasses to read the menu which makes you more disabled than me at this moment.
"If you try singling me out to my mother, she'll be down your throat. She has three sons and she's equally
proud of us all. That's why when I went to mainstream school at the age of nine, I thought it was no big deal. When the school
asked if I would like an adult minder to carry my bag around mum snapped, 'You must be joking. He'll either make friends who'll
carry his bag around or else he'll carry his own bloody bag'."
And did he make friends or was he the victim of the playground bullies? "I'm afraid to say I was Mr Popular
at school. I went out with all the girls in my year – I quite liked girls back then – and even dated ones in the
year above." By then, he was also an accomplished horseman, having started riding as a tot when, banned from joining his two
elder brothers on their BMX adventures, his parents bought him Sally the donkey on which to romp around the paddock.
"My great grandfather had been the neighbourhood 'horse whisperer' so I've probably loved horses since I was
an embryo. Whenever I watched cowboy films as a small child I wasn't watching the hunky cowboys – which I'd probably
do now – I was watching the horses. Even now I love sitting in the field just watching the way they move."
Alas, the child of courage grew into a frustrated young man, hidden away in the back room of a supermarket
where he stuck prices on jars, tins and packets. "If I hadn't discovered the possibilities of a full-time career in sport
through watching the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, I'd have committed suicide. I hated the job so much I was on antidepressants.
"If I'd worked on the checkout at least I would have been meeting different people every day but I got to
talk to nobody. It's the people who are stuck in jobs like that who deserve a bloody medal, not me."
Horses were to be his salvation; seeing Lee aboard the mighty Blue Circle Boy (affectionately known as 'Gus'
in the stable) in the Athens dressage arena was to witness a true master at work. "I feel lucky that I found my talent, not
unlucky that I was born with a disability. When I'm on a horse I'm more worried about what the riding hat is doing to my hair
than what my bent legs and arms are doing. What riding has given me is respect. When I compete in an able-bodied event, I'm
not seen as an 'Aaaah, bless. . .' factor, I'm seen as an 'Oh, s***, why does he have to be in my class?' "
Though Lee loves his boys' toys – motor-bikes, tractors, his high-speed 7½-ton lorry and horsebox and
sports cars (he is trying to persuade Mercedes to 'lend' him an SLK roadster) – it is in the saddle on Gus, a handsome
golden giant with four white stockings, that he enjoys the greatest thrill.
"I'm a nutter for speed but horses give you the freedom, movement and energy that pushing a wheelchair certainly
can't. Gus is hard work because he was bottle-fed after his mother died and can, therefore, act like a spoiled brat.
"He's got a strong, awkward personality. What we have is a bit like a marriage – we argue as much as
we get on. Obviously I don't love him as you do your wife and I do my partner but we have an understanding. I can get on him
and walk two steps out of the barn and think, 'Oooh, he's in one of them moods'."
Only Lee Pearson could admit that when he arrived in Sydney to compete in his first Paralympics his initial
sensation was one of disappointment. "I'd always liked to think that I was unique and there I was, suddenly surrounded by
hundreds of athletes with far more severe problems than me.
"I may daydream occasionally that I've got a gorgeous, muscled body, but I don't have a choice about my disability
just as I don't have a choice about being gay [what about those teenage conquests at school? "Times change…"]. I love
who I am and certainly don't have a problem about being gay."
Certain sections of society do have a problem with gay men and women, however, so was it difficult to reveal
himself as he truly was? "Mum and dad wanted to lay on a major, major 21st birthday party for me but I thought, 'What's the
point in people celebrating my coming of age when they don't know who I really am?' I used to pretend I thought a woman was
absolutely gorgeous but inside I knew her boyfriend was far more hot tottie. Mum thought I was dating a girl called Jane who
collected glasses in the pub – in fact I was seeing the barman, Vincent.
"You can control the way you think but you can't control the way you feel. It was difficult for my mum and
dad because they had the normal expectations of marriage and grandchildren so there was a period of adjustment. Anyway, I'd
already come out of the closet once before, hadn't I?"
Paralympic Reception - Buckingham Palace
By Gareth A Davies
Three hundred athletes and support staff from Great Britain's team at the Athens Paralympic Games were honoured with a
reception at Buckingham Palace yesterday.
Among the medal winners at last night's reception was six-times Paralympic Games gold medallist Lee Pearson, who added
three equestrian gold medals in Athens to those he won in Sydney.
Pearson was honoured at a ceremony in Lausanne, Switzerland, last weekend, where he had won the inaugural SportsStar award,
created by the television station Eurosport. The 30-year-old from Cheddleton, Staffordshire, said. "It was a great honour
to meet the Queen. I know Her Majesty is a great supporter of our Paralympic team."
A humbling experience
By Robert Philip
Triple dressage gold medallist (just as he was at Sydney 2000) Lee Pearson, who was born with arthrogryposis
multiplex congenital, leaving his matchstick limbs bent and twisted, can top Grey-Thompson's tale. Then, again, whatever the
story being told, Pearson can invariably find a way to top it. "There was a German without arms in the equestrian events who
unsaddles her horse with her feet, wields a knife and fork with feet, waves to the crowd with her feet and even smokes using
her feet - which isn't easy when you puff roll-ups."
Pearson, who won the hearts of all Greece when, following his first medal ceremony, he slid off his horse,
grabbed his crutches and presented his victory flowers to French teenager Valerie Salles whose mount, Arestote, had collapsed
and died an hour earlier on entering the arena. "Valerie is a good friend so I was deeply distressed for her.
"Then two days later in the freestyle, I went out on Blue Circle Boy and produced the best dressage performance
of my entire life.
"The horse doesn't know if he's competing in the Paralympics or in practice, so to go out there on our day
of days and pull out all the stops was something very special, indeed."
PEARSON RIDES TALL IN THE SADDLE
By Robert Philip
He's flash and he's brash, he jet-skis and rides quad bikes, he goes clubbing until all hours and is blessed
with more outrageous innuendos than Frankie Howerd. He is also the undisputed world No 1 in his sport and represents the living
embodiment of the Paralympic spirit.
Lee Pearson was born with arthrogryphosis multiplex congenita - "The muscles in my arms and legs grew as scar
tissue in the womb" - leaving his limbs bent and twisted, but he does not see himself as others might see him, except when
on a horse in the dressage arena, where he is recognised by all as a genius in the saddle.
Winner of three gold medals at Sydney 2000, five world and three European titles (plus a notable victory in
an able-bodied national championships event at Hickstead), Pearson added a fourth Paralympic gold to his collection with victory
in the individual event. A startling list of achievements for a man who started riding as a tot when, banned from joining
his two elder brothers on their BMX bike adventures, his parents bought him Sally the donkey. He did not discover the possibilities
of disabled sport until chancing upon highlights of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics on television.
In 1980, Margaret Thatcher carried the six-year-old Pearson – who had already undergone 15 operations
in his short life – up the staircase of 10 Downing Street to receive his Children of Courage award, melting the Iron
Lady's heart with his cheeky grin and delighted chuckles, since when the child of courage has grown into a man who walks tall
on his own, albeit with the assistance of crutches and plastic splints running from backside to heels. And what a man; after
receiving his medal, Pearson slid off his horse, grabbed his crutches and presented his victory flowers to French teenager
Valerie Salles, whose mount, Arestote, had collapsed and died on entering the arena.
Have his successes been a life-altering experience? Has riding transformed him from taking the brunt of playground
bullies into the role of elite athlete? "I'm afraid to say I was Mr Popular at school. I went out with all the girls in my
year and even dated girls in the year above. It's not your disability that's important, it's your attitude; if you sit there
like a weak, useless feeble, then that's how people will treat you. The ones who were picked on at my school were the normal,
able-bodied kids who acted strange.
"What riding has given me is respect. Respect from my village [Cheddleton] and my country. When I compete
in an able-bodied event, I'm not seen as an `Aaaah, bless…' factor, I'm seen as an `Oh, s***, does he have to be in
my class?' "
Pearson loves his "boys' toys" – motorbikes, tractors, sports cars, his high-speed lorry and horse-box
– but it is on the back of Blue Circle Boy, a handsome golden giant with four white stockings, that he enjoys the greatest
thrill. "I'm a nutter for speed but horses give you the freedom, movement and energy that pushing a wheelchair certainly can't.
I would urge anyone – able-bodied or disabled – who has been on a horse then jumped straight back off again because
they were frightened of the height or realised they're hurting parts they maybe don't want hurting, to give it another go.
To be on a live animal is better than anything. Bikes and cars are mechanical things, but you can improve a horse through
communication, friendship, arguments, training. A horse has to be incredibly strong and athletic to perform all these fantastic
manoeuvres, just as ballet dancers have to be as fit as any runner or swimmer, say, to hold a stance for so long."
Pearson insists he is among the world's lucky people. "Why lucky? Because I've loved horses probably since
I was an embryo – whenever I watched cowboy films as a small child I wasn't watching the cowboys, I was watching the
horses – and how many able-bodied people are allowed the opportunity to do the job they want? I was stuck in the Co-op
for six years and came to realise I didn't want to spend the rest of my life pushing buttons and pricing up sausages. The
customers loved me but I hated it, really hated it. Now, as well as being a professional athlete, I own my own horses and
run my own yard, where I train able-bodied clients."
Not that he refuses to indulge in idle fantasy. "If you could give me one day that I could run across the
beach naked, then that one day would probably be the best day of my life.
"I know a lady who was blind in one eye, fell, hit the floor and was blinded in the other eye. A double tragedy
you might think. But when I asked her if she wished she'd been born completely blind and therefore adjusted to it instead
of becoming blind overnight she told me, `No, because when people talk about the clouds and the grass, the cities and the
smoke, I can picture what they're on about'."
So, does he actually dream of that nude sprint along the sand? "No, I may daydream occasionally that I've
got a much more muscly, gorgeous body than I've got now, but I love my body, I love my life. I wouldn't want to change anything
but if there was a choice, then I'd take it. I'm gay as well (what about that teenage harem at school? "Times change…")
and when people ask me if I'd change my sexuality I tell them I don't have a problem being gay. So, yes, if I could flick
a switch, then I'd probably choose an easier life but you don't get offered those switches."
To paraphrase the immortal words of Ella Fitzgerald, Lee Pearson's figure may be less than Greek, but he should
not consider changing one hair on our account.
Paralympics: Child of courage now man of glory - 2000
James Mossop meets the rider
who made his mark on Downing Street and has done the same at the Paralympics
EVERY FACE, every disabled body at the Paralympics tells a story of fortitude and none more than the tale
of 26-year-old Lee Pearson. Twenty years ago he was carried up the stairs of 10 Downing Street by the then Prime Minister,
Margaret Thatcher, as one of Britain's Children of Courage.
Yesterday, on crutches supporting shrivelled limbs, he was the embodiment of joy after his efforts inthe
equestrian arena out at Homebush where he came together with a pure Arabian horse called Chip Chase Mekne and collected three
gold medals in dressage with and without music as well as the team competition.
Naturally, as a lad from a village near Leek in Staffordshire, he dubbed the horse Mickey, and they swung
into action as though they had been brought up together on his dad's small-holding.
United, they provided a vivid moment on a canvas that brought the British team's total medals to 41 gold,
40 silver and 46 bronze, with an almost guaranteed second place in the final medal count behind the hosts, Australia.
Taking part is truly the game in the Paralympics and Pearson seemed to embody the spirit as much as anyone.
Born with deformities that occurred in the womb, he was unable to spar with his older brothers Damien and Darren and had 14
major operations before he was five.
He remembers Thatcher hugging him - "I've still got the photos from Downing Street," he revealed - and when
he tried and failed to master Damien's BMX bike his parents sat him on a pony. Now he has two horses at home, competes and
succeeds against able-bodied opponents and is training a six-year-old giant [17.2 hands] called Gus that he intends to win
on in Athens in four years' time.
"Physically the contours of my body are quite good for riding though cosmetically I would like my legs to
be a little bit straighter," he said. "I have good feel, good balance, a strong back and that is what holds the rhythm of
a dressage horse. You just have to communicate with the horse until you get the right answer.
"I've been ditched quite a few times. I've done cross-country, show jumping, long distance rides, I've broken
horses, and I help friends with their problem horses. I smashed my arm on the first Riding for the Disabled horse I ever got
on and also broke my collarbone. Coming here I would have settled for a medal of any colour. The horse was a bit lethargic
at first. He needed livening up and I wanted to give him a canter but in my category, the most severely disabled, that isn't
allowed. I got special permission, though, and that gave him the buzz we needed."
His riding-to-music phase was almost a cabaret as Pearson and the Arabian came together scoring 73.35 points
as they moved around confidently to the upbeat tempo of I'm So Excited by the Pointer Sisters and Ain't Nobody by Chaka Khan.
Their transitions from walk to trot would have drawn applause from Mark Todd.
Pearson's story of courage and glory is just one among the 214 athletes in the British Paralympic squad who
have won 16 gold medals on the track, 15 in the pool and claimed podium positions in 11 of the 16 sports.