It’s been an unforgettable year for Hollie Arnold and it’s not quite over yet after being shortlisted alongside British teammate Aled Davies for BBC’s Welsh Sports Personality of the Year, which takes place in Cardiff this evening.
Arnold won her first Paralympic medal in Rio over the summer in devastating fashion, annihilating the world record on her way to winning F46 javelin gold in the Estádio Olímpico. The 22 year old’s throw of 43.01m added nearly three metres to her lifetime best and is overwhelmed by the reception she has received since returning home.
“I’m really honoured to be named alongside so many great sportswomen and sportsmen, so it’s a great privilege to be shortlisted for the award.
“It’s amazing that what I’ve done this year has been recognised. The hard work of moving to Wales to be where I am today and to be accepted as one of those athletes makes all the sacrifices worth it. Not just me, but to have Aled (Davies) there as well is really great for the profile of Paralympic sport.”
While the shiny gold medal is hanging proudly around her neck, it was a rocky journey for Arnold to Rio. A shoulder injury sustained in the early months of 2016, threatened to derail her mission to win the sport’s most prized possession.
However, Arnold turned misfortune into a vision and channelled all her focus into making sure that she, not anyone else would stand on top of that podium in South America. Constant rehabilitation and dedication to her craft saw her do something which even surprised her.
“It was always my goal to go out there (Paralympic Games, Rio), win the gold medal and break the world record. Before the shoulder injury, I was in really good shape and ready to throw around the 42m mark, even 43m. Going out there having only just got over the injury, I didn’t expect to do what I did. It was perfect, I couldn’t have imagined for it to go better having that bad lead up. It always takes a great athlete to turn something negative into a positive.”
Despite only being in her early twenties, Arnold is a veteran of three Paralympic Games and identifies her first appearance in Beijing as the catalyst to her dominance in the event today.
“Beijing (2008) feels like a distant memory - I can’t believe I was only 14. Having that experience at such a young age and to bring that to London was invaluable. Unfortunately I didn’t get a medal in 2012, but I did throw a lifetime best. It showed that I could perform on the big stage and I went on the following year (2013) to take my first World Championships gold medal. Since then it’s been a good rollercoaster.
The World ParaAthletics Championships in London offers the thrower the opportunity to win her third successive world title and that thought combined with the vision to take the event to new heights is something which really excites her.
“I’m really looking forward to see what next year is going to bring me. It’s crazy when you think triple world champion, but that’s my aim. To go out and repeat exactly what I did in Rio, break the world record and put something out there that none of the other girls can touch for a long time is the ultimate focus. I’ve got eight months now and I’m ready for the ride.”
Arnold was fortunate to have her family in tow when she won gold, but the thought of being back in front of a home crowd is a huge driving force as she sets her sights on continuing her fairytale story.
“Most of my family were in Rio, but next year everyone can turn up in London. The atmosphere in the UK is amazing regardless of whether you’re a British or international athlete. The crowd is always there to support you and that’s massively helpful as an athlete.
“I think people can see some amazing Paralympians putting down some incredible performances, smashing world records and making history. London 2012 was fantastic and we hope as a World Championships, it will be just as special. Everyone is hungry for that top spot, so it’s going to be very exciting so all I’d say is get your tickets now.”
You can put obstacles in the way, but nothing will break the steely determination of Arnold as she aims to take para-athletics to unchartered territory.
Watch the world's biggest para athletes at the World ParaAthletics Championships in London next year. Buy tickets from just £10 here