10 questions with a paralympic gold medalist!

Have you ever wondered what a day would look like as a competitive athlete?

Beyond the competitions you see on TV and the endless travelling… what does life look like as a full time competitive athlete? What does it take to become one? How does one even get into it?

Megan Shackleton is a 25 year old gold medalist in paralympic table tennis. 

Messy sat down for a chat with her about what it’s like to be paralympic athlete and a queen who stays winning. 

  1. How did you get into the industry?

I got into table tennis after I was invited to a playground to podium event in the build up to the London Olympic/Paralympic Games! The idea was to find the next generation of elite athletes, so i got to try lots of Paralympic sports and from there I discovered table tennis. After joining a club in Sheffield and training during the weeks I was fast-tracked into the Paralympic development programme as having “potential from the future” and the rest is history. 

  1. How many years have you been running it now?

I’ve been an elite athlete since 2014 when I first came on UK sport funding for the Para Table Tennis World Class Performance Programme. So 10 years this year. I used to balance my training with studying travelling back & forth from Sheffield to Todmorden my hometown, but then moved in 2018 to become a full-time athlete after finishing my alevels.

  1. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into the field?

My advice to people wanting to get into sport would be to find something that you find fun from the onset. It’s going to take a lot of dedication and perseverance throughout your athletic career, so it’s important that if you can you choose a game/sport you really love and have passion for. That way in the tough times you can keep motivated a little easier (or at least that’s how it is for me.

  1. What’s the best part?

The best part is definitely getting to represent Great Britain at major games! That’s something I’ve fantasised about and played over in my mind since being a little kid. Pulling on a GB top with your name on the back, especially for a Paralympics is a second to none feeling. 

  1. What’s the worst part?

The hardest or worst part I would say is dealing with difficult setbacks/injuries which are a natural part of becoming an athlete too. All can act as a catalyst for something positive in the future if you learn different lessons from them to evolve yourself, but it’s always very tough mentally to navigate through those challenges – especially after career “highs”.

  1. What’s your most memorable experience from this job?

Most memorable event would have to be Tokyo 2020. It was my first Games and I managed to come home with a bronze medal in the team event. Id dreamt of not only being a Paralympian but a Paralympic medalist since being a little kid, so to beat a girl from a higher classification & world ranking to me & to see my team partner finish the match of winning her singles for the medal was the most special feeling – it felt like something out of a film.

  1. Have you always wanted to take this direction with your career?

I’ve always wanted to be an elite athlete since I watched the Games in Beijing 2008! I remember being sat on the living room floor at my grandma’s house and having the epiphany of THATS WHAT I WANNA DO.

  1. What was your first experience as a paralympian like?

My first day being integrated with the Performance GB players was very nerve-racking, a lot of them I watched win medals in London 2012 and idolised a lot. So i used to feel really shy to even talk to them, but they were all welcoming and I’m lucky now to call them good friends and have experienced a Games alongside them all.

  1. What do you think the worst mistake you’ve made while filming is?

My worst mistake during my career would be forgetting to do things that help me unwind during stressful times/periods. I think I was so focused on performing to my maximum in the last year or so that I neglected a lot of outside sport self-care and as a result I spent the most of my 2023 dealing with high levels of stress and burnout! I’ve learnt a lot from that year, and since then found a strategy that works really well for me and I feel happier than ever in life and sport!

  1. How fulfilled are you with this role? Do you think you’ll carry on with this forever? Is there something you’d like to progress to? 

I feel very fulfilled currently as an elite athlete. I’m currently trying to qualify for my second Paralympic Games, but feeling more positive than ever in terms of my performance because I’ve managed to switch my mindset from “outcome” focused to “process”, so my goals feel more manageable, attainable and I’m performing well so far. I feel passionate to see how far I can go with this change in mindset, but I am excited for a future outside of sport when the time comes! I love English, and am studying it at university in Sheffield as well, so I think I’ll definitely be looking to venture into that industry a little when I’m ready for a change.

Messy joined Meg for a day in the life (when she’s training in the UK) to see what a day as a Paralympic athlete looks like!

For more of our ’10 questions with’ series, see our Convo’s with Clever Clogs page.

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