DONCASTER’S World taekwondo welterweight champion Sarah Stevenson is ready for anything that life throws at her in 2012 - including the London Olympics - after the toughest year of her life.
It isn’t in the sporting arena, where she won her second World title in Gyeonju, South Korea in May ten years after her first, where the 28 year-old faced her most challenging hour. It was in her personal life.
The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist lost both her parents, dad Roy and mum Diane, within months of each other.
Both had been tremendously supportive of their daughter and were looking forward to seeing her compete in her fourth Olympics on home soil next next July until being diagnosed as being terminally ill earlier this year.
Stevenson’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in January and passed away in October, just three months after her father died following a brain tumour.
Stevenson spoke about the toughest year of her life after being presented with the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year trophy.
She said that she had drawn inspiration from her parents’ courage fighting their respective illnesses.
“If they could cope, I can put up a fight like they did,” she said. “They were so strong.
“I never allowed myself to feel sorry for myself (at the time) because I thought they’re the ones that are going through it and I needed to be there for them. Probably now it’s getting to me more that it did then.”
She added: “I didn’t go there thinking I was going to win a gold, I went there thinking: ‘I’m just going to do my best because life’s a bit crap, so what can I actually expect – I can’t actually expect the best’, which was a bit of a silly thing to think.
“I just went there and did my best and it kind of gave me a good mental state because I thought they (opponents) can’t hurt me like what’s happening at home.
“I’m not the one who’s suffering, my mum and dad are the ones that are suffering. Fighting in a World Championship is not suffering, it’s not life and death like cancer is, and that’s what gave me the motivation. I hope that’s the motivation I’ll have when it comes to the Olympics.”
Stevenson will not fight at the French Open this weekend, preferring to start her campaign for Olympic gold in the new year, with the memory of her parents a driving force.
“They lived for what I was doing in taekwondo” said Stevenson.
“They both thought they were going to be there in 2012.
“I’ve got to just learn to live with the fact that they’re not going to be physically here but maybe I can use it as an advantage and say: ‘You know what, no-one else’s parents can actually be with them on the ring, and hopefully they can be.’”
She admitted that she had agonised over whether to travel to South Korea for the World Championships in May.
“I think I was just on auto-pilot (during the championships). I don’t know if I took it in.
“I don’t know if I actually sat there and thought: ‘What is going on?’
“I thought, if I did that, then I’m not going to be any help to them and I can’t sit here feeling sorry for myself and crying and thinking: ‘Why did I deserve this?’
Stevenson started in the sport as a seven year-old and was coached by Master Gary Sykes at the Dome-based Allstars Taekwondo Academy.
She remains a member but is now based at the Sportcity complex in Manchester.