Gold medalist Lauren Rowles arrives back at London Heathrow (Rick Findler/PA)
Paralympic rower Lauren Rowles has said she felt “the real backing of the nation” after being congratulated by people on the street who watched her gold medal-winning performance at 3am in the UK.
Rowles, 23, won the PR2 mixed double sculls with partner Laurence Whiteley in Tokyo replicating their success in Rio five years before.
The rower, who is from Cofton Hackett near Birmingham and now lives in Reading joined other returning athletes at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London to celebrate their triumph on her return from Japan.
Speaking at the event, she said: “Since I’ve been home it’s been so nice just to feel the real backing of the nation behind you.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and say: ‘I’ve watched your race’ and it was at 3am. I was like: ‘What are you doing awake?’
“But they’re watching the Paralympic Games despite the time difference and it’s incredible to feel as athletes.”
Rowles said she has “rebuilt (her) life” in the five-year build-up to the Games through overcoming seven injuries, three surgeries and “severe mental health struggles” to defend her top title from Rio.
She said: “Rio for me was just an experience of going out there and soaking in everything.
“When you make your first Paralympic Games, all you’ve got on your mind really is about getting that badge and being part of the family.
“I’m very lucky with my rowing partner Laurence and I have an incredible partnership and we worked so hard into the Rio Games and we had a lot of talent, and we went out there and we won…
“The last five years we’ve worked on that talent and we’ve backed it up with a lot of hours, a lot of work, and we’ve really had to fight to defend our title.
“In Tokyo going to back that up, it was about doing a job, it was about everything you’ve worked for the last five years, all the pressure that you put on yourself, all the time that you do in training it’s about going out there and producing that in one performance on one day.
“So there was a lot of pressure involved in it and it felt very different going to the Games this time round.”
She added that it was also “really tough” not having her family in Tokyo to support her, but they spoke from Birmingham over FaceTime where they were “having a party at 3am waking up all the neighbours”.
“That was a tough element not being able to have them there at the Games but I could hear them screaming from Birmingham in Tokyo it felt like,” she said.
“When I landed back in the UK they were all there at the airport and just to be able to hug my mum for the first time since Covid was such a feeling just to be able to embrace her.
“We cried, it was very emotional – I’m getting very emotional talking about it now.”
Rowles started her sporting career as a wheelchair racer before rowing, and she hinted that she might return to the next Paralympics playing a third sport.
“The first time I sat in a boat was just a complete feeling of freedom that I’ve not had since I was able to walk as a kid, so it was a great way of me being able to overcome my disability at a very young age,” she said.
She added: ”If myself and Laurence are back in a boat it’s for a very good reason, it’s because we want to do it.
“I think when you’re invested in going to a Paralympics, especially to defend your title when people expect you to do that, it takes a lot. It’s emotional, it’s physical investment.
“I’ve started out in athletics, I’ve moved to rowing – maybe you will see me in a boat of a different kind come Paris.”