History People Paralympic athletes Tara Flood Contents Early life Life as a Paralympic athlete Recollections Retirement as a Paralympic athlete Achievements and awards Interviews with Tara Tara Ann Flood was born in September, 1966 in Preston, Lancashire with a condition she describes as "from-birth limb impairments". Tara became a Paralympic swimmer winning medals at the New York 1984, Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games and competed in numerous UK, European and World swimming events. Tara Flood (second right) at the New York 1984 Paralympic Games. ©Tara Flood Early Life Tara was at the residential Chailey Heritage Special School in East Sussex from sixteen months of age until she was sixteen. Returning to Preston, Tara attended Blackpool and The Fylde College, a mainstream college where she boarded in the annexe of a local special school during the week and went home at weekends. In her twenties, while working in banking, she moved to London, playing what she has described as a ridiculous charade of pretending to be a non-disabled person Facing what she only later recognised as discrimination, in being overlooked for promotion, not being allowed to participate in client meetings and refused a transfer to a job involving more contact with customers, of swimming she says It was my safety valve, where I could be a disabled person Life as a Paralympic Athlete I learnt to swim very early and the school (Chailey Heritage Special School), as I said before, were very hooked-into BSAD (British Sports Association for the Disabled) Junior Swimming Sports Opportunities, so we went up to Stoke Mandeville to compete Recollections While at college, in 1983/1984, Tara had a major problem finding somewhere to train, she tried a mainstream club but says she did not feel welcomed I think also there was a sense of, “Is she really an elite level swimmer? She has a significant physical impairment. Are we just letting her come to do a little bit of swimming?” I think disabled people, we are quite attuned to that feeling which is rarely spoken, so I think I went two or three times and gave it up. Recalling her world record setting, gold medal in Barcelona In terms of the breast stroke gold and the icing on the cake, the world record, nothing; nothing took away the pleasure of that. Because I’d absolutely gone there and achieved the one thing that I’d set myself the goal of achieving. The world record! I couldn’t have asked for anything more than that, and I just remember being completely blown away by what that meant; and when you’re in the moment of it and adrenaline’s pumping – you don’t know whether to laugh or cry – but what you bask in is the roar of the crowd when it happens (you know, that’s about ego really, I mean it just is, I might as well be honest about that). Retirement as a Paralympic Athlete Tara became very active in disability rights, working for the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, later called the Royal Association for Disability Rights (RADAR), Disability Awareness in Action (DAA) and Scope before joining the Alliance for Inclusive Education (Allfie) as Chief Executive in 2006, leaving the organisation in 2019. Allfie is an organisation run by people with disabilities, which campaigns for disabled people to have a mainstream education, in 2008 Tara said The philosophy at our school was that being disabled was bad, so you must do all you could to appear not disabled. We'd had it instilled in us that you must do all you can to fit into the world, because that's how you're going to get on. In 2019 she took on the role of strategic head for co-production at Hammersmith and Fulham, having chaired the Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission that generated the Nothing About Disabled People Without Disabled People report, which looked at how to remove the barriers disabled people face in the borough by introducing a culture of co-production in the council.Co-production can be described as way of working where citizens and decision makers work together to create a decision or service which works for them all. The approach is value driven and built on the principle that those who use a service are best placed to help design it. She is also a trustee of Parents for Inclusion, Children's Rights Alliance for England and Hammersmith & Fulham Action on Disability. Having participated in the development of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities she has a particular interest in seeing the Convention implemented in full, especially Article 7: the Right for Disabled Children and Young People to participate in Decision-making, and Article 24: the Right to Inclusive Education. Achievements and awards Paralympic Games Tara represented Great Britain at the three Paralympic Summer Games between 1984 and 1992 winning 1 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze medals in swimming events. At the Barcelona Games in 1992 she set a world record time of 1 minute 15.58 seconds in the Women's 50 m Breaststroke SB2. Other awards and recognition In 2007 Tara won the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, Social Inclusion Award for Allfie's, We Know Inclusion Works campaign which she founded. Interviews with Tara Tara recalls competing in the 1984 New York and 1988 Seoul Games Extract from the interview “So I left school in 1983 and because I ‘d been competing at Nationals it doesn’t feel quite so weird that I jumped straight from school into an international competition because I was swimming all the time – even at school I was swimming at every opportunity I could; always at weekends and certainly one or twice a week. And then when I returned home I connected into the British Les Autres Sports Association and then I can’t remember what month the 1984 games were [I think it was July] Yes, I remember it being very hot in New York anyway. As I said before, there was all that controversy about Los Angeles refusing to host the Paralympics and then that strange split between Stoke Mandeville for wheelchair-using athletes and everybody else it seems, from memory. So you can imagine, what was I, just seventeen, thrown into international competition but, more importantly, meeting disabled people from everywhere in the world. Not as huge as the Paralympics are now, but at the time it felt massive, absolutely massive. Because it feels like such a long time ago I don’t remember a huge amount about the competition – probably tells you more about me – I do remember more about the social life than anything! I think probably because still in 1984 swimming even at international level, didn’t feel the same level of professionalism maybe elitism as it was only four years later in Seoul and then much more so in Barcelona. In many ways we swam in New York and competed in New York (and I think I got a bronze medal) but it felt for me as a very, very young 17 year-old much more than that. You competed at New York in 1984; and then did you go to Seoul? I did as Les Autres again; the competition hadn’t combined even at that point. On a personal level that’s going almost to the other side of the world and just experiencing something...It was very different from New York in terms of size, in terms of spectacle, it felt like where things were really starting to take shape in terms of it being a global elite sporting event – not in terms of looking back from Barcelona but in terms of comparing it with New York. I remember one of the real differences between New York and Seoul were the fact that the Korean government, local authorities or whatever they’re called in South Korea, just packed the stadiums to the rafters: weirdly lots of churches, lots of school kids though which we all loved; and it was all very uniform and I don’t know if it was groups within schools or schools themselves (we were never able to make connections with the crowds in terms of meeting or talking) but they were all assigned a particular country to support. But you know in New York the stadiums (well, stadiums, the arenas) were full of people who had travelled with the team, family, friends and maybe a few curious locals – what’s that expression, one man and his dog. It felt like that for New York; I don’t remember feeling bad about that or upset about that because I was so blown away by the opportunity to compete on an international stage (you become slightly less enamoured of that four years on after you’ve done other European events). Even now when I get together with other retired Paralympians we always laugh about that [at Seoul], because you couldn’t move for spectators and they were there and – well who knows, they seemed to be enjoying it - but what we really loved was the fact that there was noise and cheering and that felt new and good. But it was still the case that it had very little public profile. I also remember a funny thing about Seoul at the time I was vegetarian and I just remember the really terrible food there – very meaty – and the only thing someone suggested I could eat was boiled rice and Kimchi, basically aged, spiced cabbage. It’s cabbage that is sort of spiced and then put into the ground for months. My palate at the time found it absolutely disgusting. So in the end I was living on a diet, probably for not far off a fortnight, when I ate what I could get for breakfast and then for the rest of the time boiled rice and Thousand Island dressing – which is not really conducive as a sports diet. I look back on it and laugh, but at the time I remember just being so horrified that no other arrangement could be made – but I’m sure I probably had more to eat than I remember. Tara describes what it was like to compete in the 1992 Barcelona Games Extract from the interview “In the lead up to Barcelona the BPA were very keen to do some heavy promotion of some athletes and I was one of those athletes. I don’t know if you know but in the lead-up to Barcelona there was a Challenge Anneka programme – the challenge was to create an “infomercial” (film we’d call it now, I think!) about the Paralympics – well about the British Paralympic team – so we were in that , a group of swimmers, track athletes and some other sports. I’ve got a copy of it buried somewhere; it’s about three minutes and it’s all very heart-wrenching; the sound over it is from the Messiah or something. It’s all very kind-of inspiring and you know, (for me it was probably more about ego; I was really chuffed to see my face in it, it was all quite exciting). I suppose what that told me at the time was that there was a shift in terms not only of the British Paralympic Association getting itself sorted in terms of the media machine but that actually there was the beginning of some media interest in the Paralympics. Yes some, small and heavily, heavily “triumph-over-tragedy” stories, impairment-specific ... not really about the sport at all but about the individuals and what we had somehow “triumphed” over to get into the pool or get onto the track. In the lead up, much closer to the games there were a series of films made, I think it was five or six of us - I was one of the athletes, Tanni Grey-Thompson (Tanni Grey as she was at the time)and a couple [of others] - we were followed in the lead up in terms of our preparation for the games. I think the idea was a very embryonic version of what they have now in terms of the Paralympic ambassadors – a small group of Paralympic athletes who are seen as the faces of Paralympic sport. In terms of the games there was a fundamental shift, not just in terms of audiences; we’d been to Barcelona the year before for a European swimming event, so we’d swum in the pool prior to the games – and there’s something nice about that; it doesn’t feel quite so mind-blowing. What I think we all noticed and certainly what I remember when I think back is the shift in the professionalism of the whole structure, so not just in us as athletes, but in the way the games actually functioned, the coaching, the classifiers, just the way that the whole games had been organised, loads and loads of people knowing what they were doing, clearly well-trained, everything ran very, very well (not always perfect), a very high profile, in terms of Spain, opening ceremony and closing ceremony, in a packed arena. And it really felt for the first time there was starting to be an equity with the Olympic Games approach to organising, and we all noticed that. It was tricky for me because, going into 92, I knew that the way I was feeling as a person and how I was beginning to see the world, I could feel that shifting. And I began in the lead-up to the games, probably in the 12 months, 6 months before, began to feel that I was wanting to challenge the way the BPA and the UK disability sports structure was functioning. It was always, but I became much more conscious of it, about disabled people competing in sport and this huge swathe of non-disabled “experts”, “professionals”, I think I described them in some terms as “do-gooders”, but lots of people who wanted control of us and who wanted the glory it felt, in many ways off the back of our achievements. That probably sounds bitter, I don’t mean it to sound bitter, but it’s really how things for me started to feel. I didn’t feel, I couldn’t see, disabled people who had been competing and [were] maybe now retired, coming through the ranks in terms of leadership roles; and I couldn’t understand why that was because there were so many people who could have taken on those many, many roles and yet we weren’t represented at anything other than athlete level. And I think that’s something that I found increasingly difficult to swallow, and I had a couple of articles published very close to the games where I said this. You know how it is when your realisation or your thinking about the world starts to shift, there is a disconnect between the new way you think about things and what comes out of your mouth? So I was kind of verbalising all this stuff without doing a huge amount of thinking about the impact of what I was saying, but I realised very quickly what the impact was when I was starting to get some very….. It was becoming quite difficult in terms of how the staffing structure around the swimming, I could sense a shift in their attitude and behaviour towards me; I could sense that they were beginning to see me as “difficult” and challenging and not easy to control, I suppose – and on one level I really enjoyed that, but on another it did start to for me confuse my concentration in terms of getting the job done, i.e. getting my training in and really thinking and envisioning what I wanted to achieve. I mean, I knew what I wanted to achieve, I wanted to achieve gold medal in 50 metre breast stroke – that was it, anything else would be a bonus – and I did achieve that but that was with quite a lot of hard work in terms of me and my emotions and parking the beginnings of the disaffection for the time that it took to get to the end of the pool, I guess. But what we all loved was the recognition; having loads of people in Seoul was great, but what it felt like in Barcelona was the recognition of the sporting achievement – and that was different. That was different and that was fantastic. I remember at the time being interviewed after winning the gold, oh, you know, “What do you think people are going to say back in the UK?” And this sounds a bit bitter but it was how I felt at the time and in many ways similar now, is that I remember saying “But no one knows that we are here”! I knew that my family and friends and work-colleagues would love it and would be really chuffed in terms of the achievement. But in terms of society, the general public in the UK, I knew that the vast majority had no idea it was going on or what it had taken to get there or that this was about sport rather than triumph-over-tragedy. I do think it’s different now, but I guess this is about evolution. I imagine that people who competed in 1960 in Rome saw what happened in Barcelona and thought, “Wow! How different it is in 92 compared to how it was.” And that’s just how it goes; I mean that’s the evolution in terms of how disabled people are perceived and how we perceive ourselves and how the identity and confidence of the disability community has shifted to a better pace. You somehow have to know that that’s how it was then and at the time it was great and I couldn’t have personally done any better. But twenty years on which is where we are now in 2012 again things have shifted hugely.” Download a pdf of Tara's full interview here Read Tara's interview about sports classification here References https://howwasschool.allfie.org.uk/audio/grandmas-attitude/ https://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/aug/06/interview.taraflood https://silo.tips/download/trustees-report-and https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/about/team/tara-flood/ https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/floods-bittersweet-departure-from-rock-solid-allfie/ https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/ground-breaking-co-production-report-creates-blueprint-for-national-change/ https://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide51/what-is-coproduction/defining-coproduction.asp#:~:text=Co%2Dproduction%20is%20not%20just,any%20project%20that%20affects%20them.%20%5B https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/news-and-events/ioe-public-debates/speakers/tara-flood https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/28916/'Seven%20medals%20but%20now%20the%20Tories%20want%20my%20benefits'