“Every day I sort of wake up and pinch myself because when you’ve been working really hard for something it’s always just there in the future, and now people are starting to ask me how many days left in the countdown.”
Riding her horse inside London’s oldest royal park will be a drastic change of backdrop for Lee Frawley, who grew up trotting along the beaches of the US Virgin Islands.
She will be one of 78 Equestrian riders to compete in Greenwich Park at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and along with that the first and only athlete from the US Virgin Islands.
“The Virgin Islands have been involved in the Olympics for over 40 years, but this is the first time they’ve had anyone qualify for the Paralympics,” Frawley said. “It’s a huge honor. It’s very, very exciting, but it’s also been a huge learning curve for us all.”
Frawley has been riding horses since she was five, and an invitation she received in April to compete in the Paralympics has brought her career to new heights.
Just 14 years ago, she was in a hospital after a traumatic riding accident, and she never thought she would ride again.
This April, Frawley, a mother who balances training with a full-time job, found out she will be the first athlete from her country to ever compete in a Paralympic Games, leaving memories of that accident in the dust.
“It’s going to be absolutely just spellbinding, I think really,” Frawley said. “If you can imagine, this is something I’ve been dreaming about. Every day I sort of wake up and pinch myself because when you’ve been working really hard for something it’s always just there in the future, and now people are starting to ask me how many days left in the countdown.”
A transatlantic tale
Frawley was born in the US Virgin Islands and lived there until she moved to her father’s native Great Britain at age 14 to finish her schooling.
After completing her education she traveled around Europe a bit working for show jumpers, but to this day she still bounces back and forth across the Atlantic.
“On a very small island it’s a different sort of standard. It's just a different way of life. When I was growing up, we were riding the horses on the beaches and taking them swimming,” Frawley said.
“Although I’ve been back and lived back in the islands, I keep coming back to England because of the horses and because of the competition really.”
Frawley took part in several national competitions in Great Britain before moving up to international events in 2007.
It was only five years ago this month that Frawley competed in the Hartbury Festival of Dressage for the first time, but she said it feels like decades ago.
“It was something I never thought I would do,” she said. “Wouldn’t it just be unbelievable if I could compete at London 2012 for the US Virigin Islands? That seemed like so far away because I had my little horse and was doing my first ever competition. It did seem a little bit of a grand idea for someone who was just kind of starting out in it.”
Entering the royal park
Frawley will be the lone athlete in US Vigirin Islands’ delegation of eight representatives from the country at London 2012.
At Greenwich Park, she will compete with a horse named Rhapsody who she just started riding on less than two months ago when her other horse came down with an injury.
For the past two years, Frawley’s training has been a roller-coaster ride. She has had to compete on barrowed and loaned horses to gain the experience and ranking points necessary to qualify for the Paralympic Games, so another injury to her horse is nothing new.
“You never know with horses, they’re so unreliable,” Frawley said. “I’ve done a lot of training in a short space of time to build up a partnership with this horse.
“Because horses are so unpredictable, it’s not like you’re out there just running or swimming by yourself. You do have this other living being there to take on board. You just never know what’s going to happen.”
Frawley actually put an advertisement on the British Dressage website this spring when she was looking for a new horse, and another para-rider responded and even offered her a back-up horse as well if anything else were to happen.
“I think she kind of liked my story,” Frawley said.
“For somebody who doesn’t even know me, she just jumped straight in with both feet and has been so supportive because she would really like her horse to go to the Paralympics. She knows she’s not going to be riding it this time, but in four years she might be on Team GB.”
The Equestrian events at the Paralympics take place from 30 August – 4 September, and at this point Frawley believes she will be ready for anything, taking into account everything she has already had to overcome.
“There’s been times where I thought this is an awful lot of work and I’m so tired,” Frawley said. “But if I don’t really give this 100 per cent, then I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”