Olympic joy for young sailor

A YOUNGSTER who was born with only one arm will become the first British woman to sail in this years Paralympic games.Hannah Stodel, 18, from West Mersea, near Colchester, has been selected to sail in the Sonar class in the games in Athens.

A YOUNGSTER who was born with only one arm will become the first British woman to sail in this years Paralympic games.

Hannah Stodel, 18, from West Mersea, near Colchester, has been selected to sail in the Sonar class in the games in Athens.

The class at the Paralympics uses a wide and heavily ballasted 23ft keelboat, sailed by a crew of three.

Along with her skipper John Robertson, 32, from Sunderland, and Stephen Thomas, 27, from Bridgend, they are the first athletes selected for the games to represent Great Britain.


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Hannah has sailed with Mr Robertson, who is paralysed from the waist down, for four years and was part of his crew that finished ninth at the 2002 World Championships. Mr Thomas, who has no legs, joined the crew a year ago having never sailed a boat before.

The trio has already won a bronze medal in Athens at the World Sailing Championships last September.

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Hannah, who studied at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, near Ipswich, said: "I'm pretty pleased we've made it. It has been quite a lot of hard work, but it has all been worthwhile.

"I'm confident we will do well in Athens. If you look at the training and the performances we've been putting in, we should really be looking to be in the medal zone."

Although Hannah was born without a right forearm she has become one of the UK's top young sailors. At just three-years-old she began sailing with her mum Sue Bouckley, herself an accomplished yachtswoman, at the Brightlingsea Sailing Club.

By the age of 13 she took the ladies' title in the Mirror Dinghy National Championships with helmswoman Melissa Heppell and won the BT Yachting Journalists' Association Young Sailor of the Year Award 1998.

She then sailed in the asymmetric 29er in various competitions across the world, winning a best crew award in Canada, before starting in the Sonar in 2002. Last year she also sailed in the prestigious Admiral's Cup Sailability Team.

Richard Matthews, chairman of Oyster Marine based in Ipswich has sponsored Hannah and the team, matching the £20,000 given by 250 Oyster yacht owners throughout the world to enable her to campaign the Paralympics.

He said: "This is the least we can do, we are proud to continue our ongoing support for Hannah and wish her and the crew every success in winning a medal at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens."

Phil Lane, chief executive of the British Paralympic Association, said: "I'd like to congratulate John, Hannah and Stephen on their selection for Athens and wish them good luck for their preparations for the Paralympics and for the Games themselves."

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