Robert Barrett lost his left leg below the knee whilst serving with the Royal Navy.

Early Life

Robert was born on 29th July 1957.

Life as a Paralympic Athlete

Robert primarily competed in athletics, participating in the Men's 100m and 200m at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games, as well as the Men’s 4x100m and Pentathlon at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games. In National and European events, he also participated in the discus, shot put, and javelin events.

Recollections

I'm privileged to have been involved in sport for so long and to have met so many wonderful people and had so many fantastic experiences, I hope they will continue. The most profound thing for me is that if someone were to say if we could give you your life back the way it was before you lost your leg but you would lose everything you have experienced since then. I would have to say “No thank you”

Retirement as a Paralympic Athlete

After Barcelona in 1992, Robert retired from competing, and went to pursue a career in technology within the banking sector, including working for a bank which had been one of his main sponsors throughout his Paralympic career. Whilst he no longer competed full time, he still kept an interest in sport, and played for 3 separate rugby teams at the same time. He also briefly coached the Welsh national track squad.

Many years after Barcelona, Robert took up snowboarding; an interest which would lead him to working with the American Wounded Warrior programme in 2005 and 2006, where he assisted new amputee snowboarders. This eventually culminating in him being the first GB snowboarder to attend and compete at the 2012 WSF Para-Snowboard World Championships which took place in Orcières, France.

Robert Barrett enjoying snowboarding

In the past few years, Robert has returned to the sporting scene in the UK, assisting with the East London Lynx Volleyball club, which he currently manages, as well as being the squad captain for a national GB volleyball squad.

Achievements and Awards

Paralympic Games

Robert first represented the UK at the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, where he participated in two events; the Men's 100m and the 200m, winning a bronze medal in both events. His performance in the 100m also set a new British record at the time and also beat the previous world record.

Robert Barretts athletics bronze medals from the Seoul 1988 Paralympics

He would go on to participate again at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, where he competed in two events; the Men's 4 x 100m, and the Men's Pentathlon, but ultimately did not win a medal in either event, having torn a hip flexor in the Pentathlon, and being disqualified in the team relay.

Other sporting events

Before competing in Seoul, Robert participated in numerous national and European competitions, obtaining records in multiple events. These mainly focused on athletic categories, with Robert holding records in 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump, as well as becoming the National Champion in 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump, shot put, and discus.

Robert Barrett competing in long jump at the 1990 Para athletics world championships in Assen, Netherlands

Other awards and recognition

Robert would go on to be recognised at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where he and five other British Paralympians from previous games took part in the 'Brave New World' sequence.  The sequence, which lasted 5 and a half minutes, saw Robert lifted into the air and, representing athletics, 'ran' towards a large celestial sphere; the centrepiece of the stage.

Experience of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

Author: Robert Barrett

Robert Barrett training at Circus School for the opening ceremony at London 2012 Paralympics  Robert Barrett training at Circus School for the opening ceremony at London 2012 Paralympics

At Circus School, preparing for the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony ©Robert Barrett

To be given the honour of being one of only 6 Paralympians chosen to take to the air at the opening ceremony wearing a custom black and gold blade made especially for the occasion by Endolite running towards the centre stage was the final part of an incredible journey of the last few months. That night in all 44 people took to the skies as aerial performers in the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Four months ago none of us new each other now everyone is part of an extended family, having spent 8 weeks at Circus Space training for it, and then another 8 weeks on sway poles, ropes, silks, hoops, and of course my favourite Static Trapeze.

During that time I learnt more about life and limbs and what circus could and should be than I could ever have imagined. I learnt that there really is no such thing as 'can't' and that there really is nothing you can't make a joke out of. I learnt that prosthetic legs are as technically complex as racing cars and that you should never ever put a deaf guy in charge of volume control - my ears still bleed at the memory. We have all said many times how much this opportunity has changed our lives. I have no doubt that we have also helped to change some of the lives of those wonderful people whom we have been privileged to work with. 

I lost my leg whilst on active service with the Royal Navy 34 years ago now, and have always been involved in sport as an athlete, coach, mentor, and ambassador.  GLL and Starting Blocks have been instrumental in supporting not only I but all of the athletes from East London Lynx who made the British Teams both men and women in sitting volleyball.  We owe them a large vote of thanks, and we hope to continue to work together in the future.

The opening ceremony has been described with many superlatives, and for me even 'Epic' just seems too small a word to describe being a part of the whole event.  What made it even better was sharing the last part with friends like Marc Wood, and Tanni Grey-Thompson whom I haven’t seen for decades and the other great Paralympians involved, all the years fell away as we got straight back into the usual athletes banter.  

Robert Barrett performing at the opening ceremony at London 2012 Paralympics

Performing at the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics ©GettyImages

It was a unique moment in time and I will be forever grateful to Jenny Sealy and Bradley Hemmings, our artistic directors, for their vision and making it all happen It’s been a wonderful summer lets hope that this is a new beginning for the way in which disability is seen and talked about. I know that Jenny had said:

Bradley and I are relishing this opportunity of creating our Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony. We are on a rollercoaster of a journey and with us we have an awesome creative team, a wonderful professional cast and an extraordinary team of volunteers. It is immensely exciting and always terrifying especially as the days are passing at the rate of knots. But we will be ready to show the world the story we have so carefully developed and nurtured. The ceremony was both spectacular and deeply human at the same time it spoke from the heart, whilst rising to the emotional and historic occasion of the homecoming of the Paralympic Games. I hope it remains in the heart and minds of all involved for life. 

References

  • https://www.paralympic.org/robert-barrett “Robert Barrett” (paralympic.org)
  • “Profile Robert J Barrett” (Barrett, R)
  • “Opening Ceremony Report” (Barrett, R)
  • https://www.paralympic.org/news/big-name-british-athletes-attend-paralympian-reunion “Big name British Athletes to attend Paralympian Reunion” (paralympic.org)
  • https://web.archive.org/web/20120902025838/http://www.london2012.com/mm/Document/Documents/General/01/42/41/37/ParalympicOpeningCeremonymediaguideEnglish_Neutral.pdf “London Paralympics Media Guide”