Dan Pepper, 23, from Stockport is a gold medal hope for 200m freestyle and 100m breast stroke. He was crowned World Champion in both events in 2010 and European champion in the 100 breaststroke last year, but was beaten by his Dutch rival into second place in the freestyle. Both races will be close, with only 0.6 seconds separating the four favourites in the breast stroke – Pepper’s favoured event.
Like most learning disabled athletes of his generation, Pepper has suffered the frustration of living on the sidelines; excluded from Paralympic sport for precious years of his career – and therefore cut off from funding and support.
“I’ve kept going because I love the sport,” he says, “but by 2009 [when it was decided to allow some learning disabled athletes to compete at London 2012] I was at the end of my tether, training really hard but not getting to go to any events.”
The grind of training, unsurprisingly, took its toll. “It was really demotivating… I did give up for a couple of years but my coach persuaded me to get back into the pool,” he said.
With no financial support between 2000 and 2009, Pepper knows he wouldn’t be at the Games if it weren’t for the sacrifices made by his family.
“We’ve had to work so hard to prove ourselves so much, in so many ways, that we’re going to do our best but we’re also just going to enjoy it,” he says.
“The coach knows that in our class we can’t get too worried or we will mess it up, so at this stage we’re cooling down and enjoying it. I want to walk away with my held high; knowing I gave it everything and that I’ve had a good time.”