Get Inspired: From rowing novice to Paralympic hopeful

Clough has made incredible progress since being talent-spotted in 2013
Clough has made incredible progress since being talent-spotted in 2013

Less than three years ago, Grace Clough knew little or nothing about rowing.

Fast forward to 2016 and she is a double world champion and bidding for selection for the Rio Paralympics at this weekend's trials in Caversham.

But the 24-year-old Sheffield athlete still needs to pinch herself at times when she reflects on her sporting journey.

Clough was born with a condition called Erb's Palsy, where the nerves in the shoulder are damaged during birth.

She had two operations, at six months and seven years old, which have given her more movement, and she has never let her impairment stop her sporting career.

Basketball was her first love and she played for Yorkshire Under-16s and then captained her varsity team, as well as playing football while studying for a sociology degree at the University of Leeds.

Although Clough knew her impairment meant she could be classified for Paralympic sport, she never believed she would be good enough to take part.

In addition, because her legs are not affected by her condition, wheelchair basketball would not be an option for her.

A day that changed everything

In 2013, though, she saw an advert for a Paralympic talent day in Sheffield; going to it has opened up a new world of opportunities.

"I had three sports fighting over me by the end of the day," she tells BBC Sport.

"I walked in still wearing my normal clothes and rowing immediately jumped up and said they wanted me to try out for them.

"I thought it was primarily an upper-body sport - I didn't realise it was leg-driven so I tried cycling and athletics as well, but by the time I got home I had an email from rowing saying they wanted me."

At only 5ft 8in, Clough does not necessarily fit the archetypal profile of a rower but after being assessed at the GB team base in Caversham, she was asked to go on a two-week training camp in Spain.

By the end of that, she was invited to train full-time with the rest of the squad.

At the start of 2014, she made the move to become a full-time athlete and it has proved to be hugely successful.

However, she has still had to overcome challenges on the way.

Great Britain mixed coxed four
The GB mixed coxed four boat is unbeaten since the 2011 World Championships

"The coaches saw a lot of potential in me but not everything went to plan," she says. "I lost my first seat race but then I just kept training hard and improving.

"They called another seat race and I won that to get the slot in the mixed coxed four for the 2014 World Championships."

She teamed up with Pam Relph, Dan Brown, James Fox and cox Oliver James to beat the USA by five seconds for gold.

"At those Worlds I kept walking around in a bit of a daze," she recalls. "I didn't feel confident in my ability. I had worked really hard to be there but I didn't feel I was yet good enough to be competing for Great Britain.

"The highest level I had previously competed at was Yorkshire and there I was representing my country less than a year after taking up the sport. I still look back and think it is crazy."

Having faith in your abilities

Clough retained her seat for the 2015 season and the GB four won another World Championships gold, edging out the USA by less than half a second to ensure the boat will be at this year's Paralympics.

Now, all of her focus is on working hard in training to try to secure her place on the team for Rio.

She has teamed up with Relph to hone their race skills in domestic events, but apart from that it is a mixture of water-based, ergo training and weights sessions as they pursue the dream of Paralympic selection.

"In my first year it was a case of ignorance is bliss as I didn't know what to expect, but last year there were people who were also chasing the seat and that helped me learn what it is like in a high-profile competitive environment," she explains.

"But one of the hardest challenges for me was being in an environment where I couldn't talk about the sport. I had grown up playing basketball and knew everything. Now here I was in a sport I knew nothing about.

Grace Clough (left) and the rest of the World Championship-winning team
Clough (left) and her team-mates successfully defended their world title in France last year

"I didn't know whether what I was doing was good or not so I had to have confidence I would get there one day, even if it wasn't then.

"My old basketball coach used to say to me 'I can teach an athlete to be a basketball player but I can't teach a basketball player to be an athlete'. So I had to remind myself that I might not yet be a rower, but I am a good enough athlete to get there."

To find out more about how to get into rowing, go to the BBC Get Inspired website.