The Medal Machine: He already has nine golds, now Pearson is aiming for '12 in 2012'
22:04 GMT, 28 August 2012
For the British equestrian with the largest haul of gold medals, one horsepower is never going to be enough.
Which is why Paralympian Lee Pearson CBE has got Jeremy Clarkson — and Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson — in his sights.
‘I want to take on Jeremy Clarkson in a car and then make him ride a horse against me — one horsepower — can you imagine that’ says Pearson, who has nine Paralympic gold medals (28 in all major championships) and would love to make it ‘12 at 2012’.
Born to ride: Lee Pearson with Gentleman at his Stoke stables
Another triple gold performance in London would also put him one ahead of Grey-Thompson, Britain’s legendary Paralympian, who has 11 golds, four silvers and one bronze.
‘Clarkson is always showing off about his 500 horsepower cars or whatever. Yes, that is one of my life’s missions: to take on Jeremy Clarkson — and beat him. I think he will dislike me, then I can wind him up even more.
‘I just love cars. It was buy a farm or buy a race car and I did the sensible thing and bought a farm.
‘Driving a fast car is all about feel and it’s the same with a horse. When I am riding I feel what the horse is doing. I feel every leg, every muscle, the tension in the horse’s jaw down the rein. You need to feel if it is going sideways enough, going forwards enough, backwards, everything.’
At ease: Pearson relaxes at his home
Pearson was born with arthro-gryposis multiplex congenita, where his arm and leg muscles are just scar tissue. As a gay, disabled sportsman, with a forthright manner, who loves fast cars and owns an 800cc quad bike, Pearson ticks a lot of boxes, as well as blowing away a few prejudices about how disabled people are expected to behave. First and foremost, Pearson is an elite sportsman with serious ambitions.
Pearson, 38, says: ‘For every one of my medals I worked my guts off. I have been classed as a medal machine as I have also got European and worlds — 28 golds in total. So I do work like a dog to achieve them.
‘At my first Paralympics, in Sydney, they pulled a number out of a hat to find out what horse you rode. And while people say horses don’t realise if you are disabled, they do realise if you have got empathy and talent, strength, stupidity and bravery. So you can imagine that a bunch of about 120 disabled riders jumping on to a bunch of horses they don’t know was quite entertaining! The structure changed for Athens, partly because Greece couldn’t supply the number of dressage horses required.
‘Athens was my own horse, Blue Circle Boy, and at Beijing it was Gentleman, who is the most awkward, nasty horse you have ever known. At Beijing he was trying to get me off. Until we went into the arena and the atmosphere was so big that he went, “S***, I had better behave”.’
In the saddle: Pearson puts Gentleman through his dressage paces
Lee Pearson's Paralympic haul
On top: Pearson in Beijing
Winner of the ‘triple triple’ in equestrian dressage (Grade 1)
Beijing 2008: gold in team dressage, individual dressage and freestyle dressage.
Athens 2004: gold in team dressage, individual dressage and freestyle dressage.
Sydney 2000: Gold in team dressage, individual dressage and freestyle dressage.
Pearson is relaxing in his farmhouse kitchen just outside Stoke-on-Trent. It is a scene Come Dine With Me viewers will see later this week, when Pearson takes on four fellow Paralympians in the Channel 4 cookery competition.
The CBE is framed behind him, next to the Paralympic golds and his MBE and OBE. A new honour was bestowed after every Paralympic success.
‘Our sport is perceived to be elitist and I now live on a nice farm that I have worked seriously hard to afford but sometimes it is actually difficult to get sponsorship because some people think you are already loaded, whereas I am just a bloke from Stoke who has done good, marketed myself quite well and got a good sponsorship deal but I still have a mortgage. People don’t realise how hard you have to work at this.
‘Mum and Dad had to fight to get me into mainstream school. Eventually the authorities gave in and said I could go if I had a lady to follow me around to make sure I was OK and to carry my bag.
‘My mum said, “You are having a laugh, as if he is not weird enough, he is going to be very weird having this person following him around”.
‘Mum and Dad made the decision that they
were going to try to give me the same opportunity as my two able-bodied
older brothers. It was just seen as a hurdle to get over and we would
get over the hurdle one way or another.
‘There are different ways to cope,’
added Pearson, who was a Child of Courage in 1980, when Margaret
Thatcher famously carried the six-year-old upstairs on a visit to
‘Although my body is knackered, I have a real great sense of feeling. Except when I fall off.’
This seems to be a regular occurrence for Pearson, who took 12 weeks off last year after breaking his back. ‘Halfway through a session my horse just launched into the air and as he hit the ground he went at a flat-out gallop across the arena, leaping like a rodeo horse. I am doing like 30 miles an hour, about 20 feet in the air, thinking this is going to hurt.
Courage: Pearson meets Margaret Thatcher in 1980
‘At A&E they said nothing was broken, go home and rest and take pain-killers. Two weeks later I was still in pain so went to a private clinic and had a scan. I had cracked three vertebrae and crushed a fourth.’
And then he cracked a rib tripping
over a chicken. ‘She hadn’t gone to bed so I picked her up, then I don’t
know what happened, I slipped on chicken s*** I think, my crutches were
in the air, the chicken was in the air, I was in the air and I landed
in a load of aviary wire and cracked a rib.
told myself that I was getting all my accidents out of the way last
year to have a clear run this year. I also joke that I was able-bodied
when I started!’
out was almost as traumatic for Pearson, who had to break the news to
his parents. ‘It was quite difficult because Dad was a lorry driver, a
typical bloke,’ he says.
‘He took it very badly, but so did I. I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t want to be disabled but you are kind of given your lot.
‘My mum was quite confused and said things like, “Are you sure, can’t you just hide it”.
am quite a masculine person. I would see a good-looking couple walking
down the street and think she’s pretty, but I’m eyeing him too. That is
what I was always fighting with. I decided to give in.
‘If I could flip two switches and be able-bodied and normal I probably would.’