Acceptance and belonging have been the watchwords for Hetty Bartlett (to the right of picture above) on her road to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The T38 sprinter has faced numerous challenges in her career and was only diagnosed with cerebral palsy four years ago. She had initially competed in the T20 classification but now feels she has finally found her place and is ready to flourish.
“I knew I wasn’t in the right family, I knew I didn’t belong in that section,” said Team England debutant Hetty - who was encouraged to get tested for cerebral palsy by a former coach. I laughed, not to be rude, but I was like you know you’re born with that. He encouraged me to get tested and I was diagnosed straight away down my entire right side.
“It was quite a shock to me and my family. For all these years we never knew and that was quite difficult to process. All that time, I was born with it but it’s taken all that time to know. When I was a T20, I wasn’t liking who I was because I didn’t feel like I fitted.
“I was always looking at that classification thinking ‘why am I not like that?’. I knew for some reason I wasn’t in the right classification but couldn’t think why. When I got diagnosed with cerebral palsy, I was like ‘that’s where I belong’.”
Hetty had already been competing with relative success in the T20 category - picking up a gold medal in the 200 metres at the Special Olympic World Games in 2019. And despite her reclassification, Hetty represented ParalympicsGB at Tokyo 2020 despite being told she wouldn’t be competing at first.
“I was absolutely devastated,” said Hetty. “They said: 'we can see you’re progressing and getting better - we just don’t feel you’re ready yet and to go and work hard ready for Paris'.”
Yet just two weeks before the Paralympic Games, Hetty got the call to tell her that she would be going after all, placing sixth in the long jump. The 31-year-old had even begun developing jumping off her other leg before having to quickly abandon plans in order to compete in Tokyo.
“I just burst into tears; I just didn’t know what to do because it was a dream,” recalled Hetty. “You have dreams and targets and you never feel your dream is ever going to come true. I remember the phone ringing and someone on the phone saying can you put your phone on loudspeaker and tell everyone to sit down.
“Then she said we’ve got some fantastic news to tell you, you’re going to Tokyo. You can’t explain that emotion and excitement until you have that experience for yourself.”
For Hetty, it was timely vindication of her ability having been bullied from a young age and the achievement of a dream first established wacthing the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“When I went to the Paralympic Games in London, that’s when I said to myself ‘that’s what I want to do’,” said Hetty. “I hadn’t really seen the Paralympics before, so seeing it in London I was just amazed.
“I set myself that goal. Little do you know when you set yourself a goal that you’re actually going to achieve it. When I was at school I got badly bullied, I found it very difficult, there were times where I wouldn’t accept myself and I didn’t like who I was. Athletics changed that for me.”
Now, Hetty feels she very much belongs, both on and off the track, and is relishing the prospect of a home Games.
“It’s going to be more like London because it’s a home crowd, it’s a home Games,” added Hetty. “It’s going to be more emotional to have the crowds back and feel so much more normal.
“I would like to medal, like anyone would like to have a medal round their neck, that is what I’m hoping to do. I know to do it I need to do quite a big PB but I’m working hard to get that to come true.”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The programme, supported by Sport England, will reinforce the importance of the Commonwealth Games, particularly one hosted on home soil, as a developmental opportunity within the talent and performance pathway!