Lizzie Williams has endured more than her fair share of pain before finally finding a sport where she truly feels accepted.
The T54 wheelchair racer is a former swimmer whose career in the pool was ended by spinal surgery complications six years ago, and when she was bullied out of a fledgling stint in wheelchair tennis, she turned to the track.
An LGBT rights ambassador for Stonewall, Williams is now committed to helping other young athletes through the struggles that prevail around equal acceptance in sport.
“I could never imagine ten years ago that I’d be doing this, and I’d be that role model for other people in that situation now,” she said.
“I would just scour the internet trying to find other LGBT+ people! And I really want to be that for someone.”
I’m really proud to announce that I am one of @stonewalluk 's first Sport Champions! It's an honour to be a role model for LGBT equality in sport, and I'm excited to be a part of this incredible group as we push for inclusion at all levels of sport. 🏳️🌈 https://t.co/y6wE5GtopI”— Lizzie Williams (@lizziewheelz) November 22, 2019
With high profile athletes such as Megan Rapinoe, Nicola Adams and Gareth Thomas all flying the flag to make sport everyone’s game, Williams – who is currently preparing for next year’s European Para Athletics Championships in Poland – believes that things are starting to change.
But the 24-year-old acknowledges that progress has proved slower in some sports than others.
“It’s so individual to different sports and different sports are on completely different journeys.
“I caught Hector Bellerin’s interview in support of Rainbow Laces and he highlighted that in men’s sport in particular there’s a massive problem.
“And I don’t know what the problem is there. Maybe it’s not to do with what’s going on in the changing rooms but it’s what’s happening in the stands? Things have progressed a lot over the years but we’re not where we need to be.
“It definitely seems like a completely different world for women and women’s sport, which is just like… why? Like really! Why?
“I don’t know about other athletes, but I spend the majority of my time with my teammates.
“Even if things are falling apart off the track if I know I’ve got them, people in my corner, people I surround myself with the majority of the time, they’ve got to be great, positive people in my life. So, it makes a massive difference to have their support. “
And though Williams is now living in a world where she herself is a role model to the next generation, that by no means stops her from having heroes of her own, with Rapinoe first and foremost on the list.
“Oh man, the day I meet her. That would be amazing. I’d love to have a chat with her,” she added.
“I’d just love to meet her. She’s got such great confidence. Thinking back to 14-year-old me if I knew of her back then, she would have definitely been my inspiration. She’s an inspiration to me now!”