Coach Carter proves she’s no ordinary gran

Bronwin Carter, left, provides some coaching advice to thrower Graham Condie during a training session at the Mountbatten Centre
Bronwin Carter, left, provides some coaching advice to thrower Graham Condie during a training session at the Mountbatten Centre
Runners stream past HMS Victory in the Historic Dockyard

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Bronwin Carter isn’t your stereotypical grandmother.

In fact, kids television channel Smile TV has footage which suggests she is anything but – after they presented her with the unique honour of being the world’s ‘strongest granny’.

A fair assumption given the 14 world titles, 11 European crowns and 20-plus British championships successes Carter has majestically accumulated in the sport of weightlifting down through the years.

But it’s not just the 62-year-old’s endeavours with barbells that makes her stand out from the crowd.

For more than 10 years, the Portsmouth woman has built a reputation for being one of the most respected coaches of disability athletes in the UK.

Her expertise in the art of throwing has seen her travel the world and work alongside elite-level athletes for major championships such as the Paralympics.

Meanwhile, the City of Portsmouth AC coach’s volunteer work at grass-roots level and dedication in helping those less fortunate make their way in the sport makes her a familiar and approachable figure at her home track at the Mountbatten Centre.

Such work and commitment has enabled the extended Carter family to beam with pride for as long as they can remember.

And that sense of pleasure was there for the world to see when Carter was invited to carry the Olympic flame through the streets of Portsmouth last summer on it’s way to London.

It’s not for those personal plaudits, though, that the multiple News Sports Awards winner dedicates so much of her time to assisting the athletes under her care.

For her, it’s all about providing opportunities for the individual and helping them become the athletes they dream of being.

‘When I was competing as a shot-putter, I found I had no-one here and had to go up to Crystal Palace for coaching,’ said Carter.

‘I had to get three trains to get up there, which cost me a lot of money – but I needed somebody to coach me.

‘And I don’t want these kids to think they don’t have the opportunity to go as far as they need to go in their sport because there is nobody there for them.

‘I want to get those guys up to be the best they can be.

‘You need to give people as much opportunity as you can.

‘I don’t care if they come from Timbuktu, if they are interested in throwing or doing some sort of activity, then I will take them on – especially if they are disabled.

‘I now have a nice little group who come down to the Mountbatten Centre.

‘They come and throw discus, club, shot and javelin and come in along with my mainstream javelin guys, so it’s all like integration.

‘Sometimes I have got to do back-to-back coaching because I am the only one doing it.

‘I would love to have more volunteers but sometimes it’s a thankless task.’

Carter only got into disability coaching by accident.

After becoming a mainstay throws coach with England in the late 1980s, she was requested to lend her support in an entirely new area – something which caught her by surprise.

However, after accepting the challenge, Carter believes others can and should follow suit.

‘A dwarf came up to me in 2001 and said he was doing the European Dwarf Games,’ said Carter.

‘I just laughed because I said I had never heard of it. But he said “they are out there” and asked could I coach them.

‘Suddenly, I was part of the dwarf association that went to Toronto that year to do the World Dwarf Games.

‘There, some people didn’t even know how to throw a javelin, how to shot putt or throw discus so I had to do a quick crash course and teach them.

‘After that, I was then suddenly the national coach of the dwarfs – and it then just went on from there.

‘The two dwarfs I was originally coaching became part of the Great Britain team going to the World Dwarf Games, so I was part of the coaching set-up from UK Athletics.

‘They then asked if I would be a coach for them, so I then got into that, coaching the disabled athletes. To be honest, all you do is adapt to the activity.

‘It’s not rocket science but people seem to think it’s a special way. They try to make a science of it but it’s not.

‘You adapt to the actual athlete you’ve got and you make the best you can.

‘You know, obviously, about the athlete’s history and background but you do the same things that you would with an able-bodied athlete.

‘You do the same things but adapt them in a different way to make them the best athlete they can be in their category.’

The events that followed that voluntary appointment saw Carter boost her air miles as she became a key figure in the GB set-up.

She coached the paralympic throwers who excelled in Athens and Beijing. But she stepped down from the position ahead of London 2012, despite providing support for many of the athletes involved – including City of Portsmouth’s Olivia Breen, who claimed relay bronze.

It’s a decision Carter maintains was the right one, regardless of the massive publicity and feel-good factor which the Games generated.

‘I finished my stint in 2010, after Beijing,’ she said.

‘I was getting too old for it all but was still helping athletes prepare for 2012 off my own back.

‘Beijing was the one I wanted to be part off.

‘I knew London would be great but I wanted to sit back and enjoy it.

‘When you actually work at the Paralympics, you don’t actually see anything.

‘You’re too busy.

‘But in London, I said “it’s home”.

‘It would have been nice to be involved but I wanted to watch it.

‘I wanted to be part of the crowd and enjoy the experience, rather than be lugging frames around and doing all that.’

Carter, who was Portsmouth City Council’s disability sports coach until being made redundant last month, said she watched on with great pride as many of the athletes she had helped over the years picked up medals under the nation’s spotlight.

‘I went to the Paralympics in London and saw Olivia do her 200m heat and my friend Bev Jones, who I used to coach as well, win bronze in the discus,’ Carter added.

‘After Bev won her bronze, we went out and celebrated, which was really good.

‘It was a nice feeling and a good day.’

Despite having her role with the council cut, Carter added she would still make herself available to all those schools she had been assisting over the past nine years in the job.

‘I won’t be doing that job anymore but I’ll continue as much as I can,’ she said.

‘I’ve still got to get these kids to the Hampshire Games, which are coming up.

‘I’ll also still be at the Mountbatten Centre helping out everybody and anybody else who wants to be coached.

‘I want them to have the same coaching opportunities that I had. I could take some of my retirement but I’m not ready to retire yet.’