Team GB Paralympic swimmer Liz Johnson with cerebral palsy won gold Beijing after mother"s death from cancer

'I won my gold medal for mum': The Team GB Paralympic hope who swam to victory in Beijing just 11 days after her mother's death
Liz Johnson, 26, from South Wales, has cerebral palsyShe is defending Paralympic and European 100m breaststroke champion in the SB6 class and will race in London
Her mother Bonnie, 52, died of cervical cancer while Liz was flying to China

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UPDATED:

13:11 GMT, 28 August 2012

Liz Johnson with the gold medal she won in Beijing

Liz Johnson with the gold medal she won in Beijing

Competing in the Paralympic Games is tough enough – it's difficult to imagine quite how much tougher the challenge might be were you competing just days after your beloved mother had died.

But Liz Johnson can imagine.

The brave Welsh swimmer – who has cerebral palsy – was in Beijing preparing for her 100m breaststroke event in 2008 when she learned that her mother Bonnie, 52, had lost her gruelling battle with cervical cancer and would not see her compete.

Bonnie had died while Liz was on the plane to Beijing.

Faced with the agonising decision over whether to stay and compete or to fly home, Johnson, 26, chose to race – partly for Britain, partly for her mum.

And when she won gold 11 days later she knew she owed it all to her mother, the woman who had always been her number one fan.

Speaking to Grazia, Johnson describes the day in 2007 when she found out her mother had terminal cancer as 'the worst moment of my life'.

But she also remembers how proud her mum was when she qualified for the Beijing Paralympics in the SB6 category of the 100m breaststroke, and why that memory led her to stay in China and compete, even after hearing that her mum had passed away back in Newport.

She says: 'When they said they could hold the funeral until after I'd competed, I knew I had to stay. It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made – just leaving Mum had been fraught in itself – but she'd given up so much to give me the opportunity to achieve my dream. I owed it to her to race.'

Water-baby Liz Johnson in her natural habitat at Tooting Lido

Water-baby Liz Johnson in her natural habitat at Tooting Lido

Johnson, who won silver in the event at the 2004 Athens Games, says that when she stood on the side of the pool in Beijing her mind was 'clearer than ever':

'I'd always got so worked up about messing up in races, but this time the outcome didn't really matter. It couldn't make anything feel worse.

'As it turns out, I won gold for Britain – and for Mum. It was bittersweet. She's never see this, never hold my medal or, more importantly, hold me again. But I know she'd have been so happy for me.'

Liz Johnson sports the gold medal she won in Beijing as she lays the final tile in the floor of the London aquatic centre in 2011

Liz Johnson sports the gold medal she won in Beijing as she lays the final tile in the floor of the London aquatic centre in 2011

Johnson, who trains in Manchester, was born hemiplegic, meaning that the right side of her brain is smaller and weaker than the left.

Bonnie, a teacher, took her daughter to swimming lessons to strengthen her muscles – which can weaken as a result of the condition – and it was soon obvious that Liz had a real gift in the water.

The champion swimmer says that despite her mother and father Shane having split up when she and her younger sister Robyn were still small, her mother still found the time to help her daugher, and sacrificed a lot in terms of having her own life in order to attend Liz's swimming events: 'We spent so much time on the road together and grew close.'

Johnson will
defend her 100m breaststroke title in the Aquatic Centre on 5 September,
and compete in the individual medley SM3 on 3 September.

Paralympians (from top left) Libby Clegg, Liz Johnson, David Weir and Baroness Grey-Thompson at a photocall in London on the announcement of prices for the London 2012 Paralympics

Paralympians (from top left) Libby Clegg, Liz Johnson, David Weir and Baroness Grey-Thompson at a photocall in London on the announcement of prices for the London 2012 Paralympics

Liz Johnson with fellow Paralympian Jim Anderson in the Olympic parade after winning gold in Beijing

Liz Johnson with fellow Paralympian Jim Anderson in the Olympic parade after winning gold in Beijing

Liz Johnson with the silver Paralympic medal she won for 100m breaststroke in Athens in 2004

Liz Johnson with the silver Paralympic medal she won for 100m breaststroke in Athens in 2004