Meet Gemma, the Living Sport Award finalist "loving life in the sports industry"


Gemma Stevenson is honoured to be considered for a Living Sport Award that recognises outstanding achievement in the face of adversity (Photo: Gemma Stevenson)

Gemma, a wheelchair tennis player and adaptive abilities cheerleader, grew up in Peterborough and was an active member of both sports clubs and theatre groups, appearing in Key Youth Theatre productions when she was younger. She then decided she wanted to be a sports presenter, earning a degree in Sports Journalism.

In 2016, Gemma was involved in a serious car accident which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. This led to a diagnosis of acquired hemidystonia. Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions or spasms. Hemidystonia affects muscle groups on one side of the body.

The diagnosis hasn't held her back. Gemma works as a freelance broadcast journalist, appearing on-air for broadcasters including Sky Sports, BBC News and Baseline Media. She presents The Constant Cheerleader podcast, which champions female voices in sport and the arts. And she competes at domestic level in tennis and for the country in adaptive cheerleading.

Speaking to Peterborough Matters, she gave some insight into her game: "When I play tennis I use tape to attach my hand to the racket because I have no hand function so can't grip the racket in the traditional way - it's a running joke in the media places I freelance for that I'm the journalist who can’t write! I train locally with the coaches at City of Peterborough Tennis club and compete at National Series level in tennis.

"I also compete for the country in adaptive abilities cheerleading and was part of one of the Team England teams that brought home gold at the International Cheerleading Union World Championships in 2019."

The pandemic meant (ICU) that the 2020 ICU World Championships couldn't go ahead.

Gemma has made the finals for the Jonnie Peacock award, which recognises outstanding achievement or valued contribution to sport in the face of adversity.

On her nomination, Gemma said: "It's honestly something I'm completely honoured to have been considered for and never dreamed in a million years that I'd ever be a finalist. 

"I know first hand the power sport can have on both your physical and mental health, and also the impact seeing a woman succeeding in and loving life in the sports industry can have on getting more young girls to participate. These are things that have always been something I've had a passion for championing in my work as an athlete, charity ambassador and sports journalist reporting on the wheelchair tennis tour and disability sport as well.

"2020 has seen the world turned upside down but it's also seen so many use sport for good and I hope during this past year, whilst there’s been a little less sport for me to both compete in and report on, I've made a little bit of difference and used my tennis and sports broadcasting skills instead to raise vital awareness and funds for both Dystonia UK and The Thomas Read Bursary, two charities that are very close to my heart as they've helped me in the past. 

"Of course I haven't done it alone and I've had a lot of support from family, friends, the City of Peterborough Tennis Club and my coaches there who have kept me motivated to carry on training, when we didn't know when tournaments would resume. And of course the wider wheelchair tennis and tennis community."