16-year old Ballykelly athlete Sally Brown concedes that she gets nervous before races. But she finds it hard to put into words just how nervous she will be come the London 2012 Paralympics, when she will be competing in various sprint races at the Olympic Stadium.
'I love the adrenalin rush,' the Limavady High School ‘A’ level student admits. 'But I feel really nervous before races. I hate it at the time, but I think that is the reason why I keep going back to racing, just wanting to do well at something.'
That desire to achieve has already brought results for Brown, who won bronze in the 200 metres at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Christchurch in January 2011. But her journey towards potential Paralympic glory has been an unusual one.
'I’ve been involved in able-bodied athletics all my life and only came into Paralympics two years ago,' Brown comments. 'I was delighted to be selected for Great Britain for New Zealand, and then to come home with a medal – that was stunning.'
Brown has never allowed any perceived ‘disability’ to get in her way, as her father, Richard – who regularly takes his daughter to training sessions and competitions – asserts.
'She has a medical condition called left arm dysmelia. Her left arm did not develop below the elbow and she only has one hand. However, Sally has never let it get in her way. Years ago she even worked out a way of tying her shoe laces.'
Sally, too, is matter of fact about her condition. 'Because I was born without a lower left arm, I couldn’t do anything about it,' she admits, breezily. 'There is no point complaining. It was never there to begin with.'
Of more immediate concern to Brown is recovery from a serious foot injury that she picked up in July 2011, which led to eight months in rehabilitation.
'It was a stress reaction in my right foot and it was spotted before it could become worse,' she explains. 'It was the stage before a stress fracture, and for ages I had to wear a big boot as a precaution more than anything else. I slowly got back into running and can’t wait for the Games.'
The injury did not absolve Brown from keeping up with her fitness and coaching routine, and she has stuck at it with the aim of achieving a podium finish in London.
'I work with Phillip Tweedy, my coach with the Springwell Athletics Club. We do six days a week with Sunday off. On one of those days I’m at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland doing a session on their ultra gravity machine. It allows me to do some running while at the same time taking the weight off my body.'
Despite already achieving the required standard for the Paralympics, Brown was required to prove herself again once her injury had healed, which she did. While she expects to compete in the 100, 200 and 400 metres, her long-term aim is to concentrate on the 200 and 400 metres.
And there is another ambition: Brown wants to follow the example of two other famous Paralympians, Northern Ireland's Jason Smyth and South Africa's Oscar Pistorius – otherwise know as ‘Blade Runner’. Both will be competing at the London 2012 Paralympics.
'I started in able-bodied athletics and I would like to get back into it if I can,' says Brown. 'While there is a difference between the two with regard to balance and strength, I don’t believe it’s so great for me not to be able to try and compete against the able-bodied. But I’ll look into that once I hit my 20s – that’s if I’m still running, of course.'
Richard Brown would love to see his eldest child achieve that ambition. 'It would be great for Sally, if she could. She has the right attitude and doesn‘t let anything deflect from what she has in mind.'
He is also full of praise for how Sally’s school has assisted her parallel worlds of athletics and education. 'Limavady High allow her to have time off when she needs it. The staff understand what she is trying to do and assist in every way they can.'
As the clock ticks down to race time, is Sally Brown even daring to dream about winning a first Paralympic medal? 'I’m training towards a medal,' she confirms. 'I would be disappointed if I didn’t get the equivalent of what I won in New Zealand. If I didn’t win something, I would have to look at it and see what went wrong.'
And as Brown goes through her pre-race bout of butterflies and nerves, she knows that the presence of a very special group of people will have a calming influence on her state of mind as she contemplates what awaits.
'Mum and dad have been a huge influence on me and I’ll be running for them,' shes concludes. 'They’ve let me enjoy athletics for so long without expecting anything from it. Now that I am doing well, they will be just as proud of me whatever the outcome.'