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Trackside With Paralympian Robyn Lambird

Robyn Lambird was gearing up for the Paralympics when she took time out from the track to chat to us about travel and her bid for a medal in wheelchair racing in Tokyo.

Robyn Lambird was gearing up for the Paralympics when she took time out from the track to chat to us about travel and her bid for a medal in wheelchair racing in Tokyo.

Robyn, please tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi! I’m 24 years old and I am an elite athlete, a social media creative, model and disability advocate. I love vintage fashion, travel and good coffee.

What is the biggest challenge you encounter when you travel?

The biggest challenge for me when travelling, especially overseas, is accessibility. I love places that are rich in history and beautiful architecture but these often present as the trickiest environments. 

How do you overcome or manage travel challenges? 

I am an ambulatory wheelchair user meaning that I can walk but I use a chair to manage things like fatigue. When travelling I usually make a rough plan for my day ahead of time so I can figure out what types of places I am going to be visiting, what access to these places is likely to be like, and whether it will be easier for me to walk or roll. If it’s going to be easier for me to walk I like to check out whether there might be some cool cafes or parks nearby that I can take some time to chill and recoup my energy in between sightseeing if need be. This way I can give my body what it needs whilst soaking up as many experiences as possible. 

Tell us about a holiday or trip you’ve taken that was a success? What made it a success? 

I loved New York! My partner and I were lucky enough to stay with some friends of mine in the Lower East Side, and it instantly became my favourite destination. The tourist destinations were generally fairly accessible but to be honest outside of going to the theatre we spent most of our time hanging out with locals, eating multicultural delights, thrifting for vintage goodies, and checking out art galleries. To me the best holidays are always the ones experienced away from the tourist traps and immersed in local culture. The public transport system over there was definitely less than ideal for people with physical disabilities, so I’d recommend looking into it before your trip to figure out the best way to get around, but everyone was very friendly and offered as much help as possible. 

Robyn Lambird crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in New York
Robyn Lambird crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

What are your top travel tips? What do you wish you knew the first time you travelled? 

Don’t get all of your travel advice from guide books! Whilst they are a great place to start I thoroughly believe in scouring places like Instagram to find the spots that are creating a buzz locally. I think this allows you to be absorbed into the culture as much as possible and by avoiding the tourist traps it actually saves you money that you can then spend on the things you really value. I’m a big foodie so I’ll always check out food related hashtags before visiting somewhere, but whatever your interests are  I can guarantee someone has written a blog or social media on the hot spots for that particular thing: so do your research! Also, I always allow time in my schedule for wandering. As long as I have access to a map so I can find my way back to my accommodation, I like to just go for a stroll and explore the different neighbourhoods around where I am staying. Some of the best holiday moments for me have sprung from this spontaneity and I think you alway remember those special gems that you just so happen to discover. Most map apps these days will also give you a fairly good indication on the accessibility of an area too, so you can always check those out to get a rough idea on which routes are going to work for you.

What does travel mean to you?

I’ll always travel if the opportunity arises, I think it’s a wonderful way to experience new things and to expand my perspectives. There is so much to learn in the history and culture of other places, and delving into that is one of the best ways to grow as a person. 

What improvements would you like to see in the future in the tourism industry? 

I would like to see disabled people valued in the tourism market. There are so many of us that want to be out there experiencing all that the world has to offer, but we are still so often held back – whether that be from a lack of accessibility or the nightmare that can be flying with a disability. 

Given the impact of Covid on international sport, we’d like to know more about how you prepared for the Tokyo Paralympics.

Covid has meant that I haven’t had access to the international competition and depth of competition that I would usually have access to in the lead up to a majors. The Swiss Grand Prix for example is usually the highlight of our season and a place where I’d typically get to test myself amongst the world’s best before heading to a big event. Without these events it’s been a little harder to track my progress through the season and to remain motivated. However, travel places quite a bit of stress on the body especially when you are competing at a high level so, in some ways, I think it’s been quite advantageous to just spend a season at home working through all the fundamentals and building on my strengths. Overall, I’m just looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere at my first Paralympic Games and am aiming to give a well rounded performance that reflects the last five years of training. If I end up on the podium, that will be a huge bonus!

Update: Just before going to print, we had the pleasure of watching Robyn Lambird win a bronze medal at the Paralympics in Tokyo. Congratulations, Robyn!

Follow Robyn Lambird on Instagram.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.

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