Australia’s Sharon Jarvis entered the arena for the final ride of her record-breaking Paralympic career at the Tokyo Games tonight (Sunday, 29 August).
Sharon made history this week, as only the Australian equestrian to have ridden at three Paralympics – Beijing 2008, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. It was on this note that she made the decision to retire from the sport.
“The part that makes it a lot harder is that I made a choice before Tokyo that this would be my last Games,” said Sharon, who partnered Romanos to a score of 67.9% on the final day of the team competition.
The moment was even more emotional as this was Sharon’s final ride on Donnella Merrett’s 19-year-old gelding, as he returns home to his owners after the Games.
“It just makes me so emotional because I have absolutely loved riding this horse to bits, but unfortunately that is the nature of our sport when we can’t afford to own our own horses,” she said.
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When Sharon’s intended Tokyo ride was injured, she thought that was the end of her dream for these Games.
“I had moved 4,000km across the country to train for Tokyo five years ago. So when my horse injured himself I said to my coach Rozzie Ryan, ‘I think that’s it. I have to drive back home, I don’t have a budget to buy a horse’,” she recalls.
“Rozzie said, ‘no, you’re not giving up yet. I won’t let you drive out that gate!’ We actually put a call out on Facebook to see if anybody had a horse to loan to me, and we had so many lovely messages from people.”
One of those messages was from Donnella, based around 1,000km away, who suggested her Rotspon x Laptop gelding Romanos might suit.
“Rozzie said, ‘that’s the horse – go get on the plane’. I had one ride and said ‘yeah I think I can do this’. I’m just ever so grateful to his owner for allowing me to ride him and my coach for not letting me give up.”
Tokyo was a completely new experience for Romanos, who Sharon describes as “very cheeky and loves drinking slushies”.
“I’m just very lucky and grateful to be on a horse like him here,” she said.
The grade IV rider was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma bone tumour in her left leg when she was seven years old and was originally given three months to live. Doctors saved her life and saved her leg from amputation. As a result of the treatment, her left leg and lower right leg have limited movement and strength.
“I’ve seen my family for two days in the last 20 months because of Covid. They are back home watching. It’s been quite a big logistical thing, and I’m looking forward to going home after Tokyo,” she said, crediting her support team, and first and foremost Romanos, for what they have helped her to achieve.
“It’s incredible and it’s emotional [to be here]. I thought I was really lucky to get to one Games and to make it to three is just unbelievable.”
Alongside her Paralympic achievements, Sharon is also a double bronze world medallist with Applewood Odorado.
“We found him through Horse & Hound!” she said. “We had been in England in the lead up to World Championships in 2007. I picked up a copy of Horse & Hound magazine and saw an ad in there for a horse. We went and looked at it and ended up buying him, and he went on the be my medal-winning horse at the World Equestrian Games at Kentucky in 2010.”
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