Paralympic rower Lauren Rowles about falling for Team GB basketball player Jude Hamer during lockdown

Paralympic gold medalist Lauren Rowles reveals she found the courage to come out after falling for Team GB basketball star during lockdown – but fears she’s being used by companies as a ‘tick-box’ exercise

  • Team GB star Lauren Rowles, 23, won Paralympic gold in the mixed sculls on Sunday with partner Laurence Whiteley
  • Rowles has been in a wheelchair since she developed transverse myelitis at age 13
  • She befriended wheelchair basketball player Jude Hamer, 30, during the lockdown and the couple quickly fell in love
  • Now Rowles says the romance has given her the confidence to both come out and be a role model for LGBTQ+ athletes


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Team GB Paralympic rower Lauren Rowles’ gold medal has revealed how falling in love with a fellow British athlete during lockdown gave her the confidence to come out.

The 23-year-old, who rowed to victory in Tokyo on Sunday morning with mixed sculls partner Laurence Whiteley, has been dating 30-year-old women’s wheelchair basketball player Jude Hamer since romance blossomed during lockdown.

The rower, from Bromsgrove, says meeting Hamer, who is currently part of Team GB’s quarterfinals in the basketball league, gave her the courage to discuss her sexuality in public.

Rowles, who is currently World, Paralympic and European Champion in her category, said: The Telegraph this week she now hopes to become an advocate for LGBTQ+ athletes.

Lauren Rowles, right, and rowing partner Laurence Whiteley won gold in the mixed doubles sculls in Tokyo on Sunday.  Rowles has been dating girlfriend Jude Hamer for over a year

Lauren Rowles, right, and rowing partner Laurence Whiteley won gold in the mixed doubles sculls in Tokyo on Sunday. Rowles has been dating girlfriend Jude Hamer for over a year

Courage: Rowles (right) befriended wheelchair basketball player Jude Hamer, 30, (left) for women during the lockdown and the couple quickly fell in love.  Rowles says her partner has given her the courage to come out and be an advocate for LGBTQ+ people in sports

Courage: Rowles (right) befriended wheelchair basketball player Jude Hamer, 30, (left) for women during the lockdown and the couple quickly fell in love.  Rowles says her partner has given her the courage to come out and be an advocate for LGBTQ+ people in sports

Courage: Rowles (right) befriended wheelchair basketball player Jude Hamer, 30, (left) for women during the lockdown and the couple quickly fell in love. Rowles says her partner has given her the courage to come out and be an advocate for LGBTQ+ people in sports

Rowles met Hamer, pictured representing Team GB for the Paralympics, after the pair started chatting on Instagram - they've since moved into a house near Reading together

Rowles met Hamer, pictured as Team GB's representative for the Paralympics, after the pair started chatting on Instagram - they've since moved into a house near Reading together

Rowles met Hamer, pictured as Team GB’s representative for the Paralympics, after the pair started chatting on Instagram – they’ve since moved into a house near Reading together

However, the gold medalist said she doesn’t want to be seen as a ‘tick off the mark’ for companies because she is a disabled woman with a female partner.

The couple, who now live together near Reading, met after getting in touch on Instagram and started working out together.

The rower, who developed the condition transverse myelitis at age 13, meaning she has no sensation in her body from the chest down, told the paper Jude would let her go through “wild” workouts.

She says they would chat for hours on end and the love blossomed.

The 23-year-old revealed she found it difficult to come out due to a lack of role models growing up – but admits she’s wary of becoming a ‘check-off’ for companies because she’s a woman with a disability and a female partner.

Rowles, equal with Hamer, says she's 'eyes light up' because she's a disabled woman with a female partner, but doesn't want to be a 'tick off the mark'

Rowles, equal with Hamer, says she's 'eyes light up' because she's a disabled woman with a female partner, but doesn't want to be a 'tick off the mark'

Rowles, equal with Hamer, says she’s ‘eyes light up’ because she’s a disabled woman with a female partner, but doesn’t want to be a ‘tick off the mark’

She explained: “I wasn’t dating, I didn’t want to be labeled, but Jude gave me the confidence to do it, by being with her, we took that step together.

“I was concerned because companies see me as a check-off: their eyes light up when you say, ‘I’m gay, disabled and female.’ I am all those things, but I can be more of that because of what I say and what I do.’

Take home gold: Rowles and rowing partner Laurence Whiteley after winning their gold medals at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo

Take home gold: Rowles and rowing partner Laurence Whiteley after winning their gold medals at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo

Take home gold: Rowles and rowing partner Laurence Whiteley after winning their gold medals at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo

Basketball player Hamer has been candid about her battle with depression, saying that her quest for glory at the Paralympic Games in Rio five years ago marked a disastrous period for her mental health, leading her to consider suicide.

Japan’s stance on gay and trans rights lags far behind many countries in the wealthy Western world.

Same-sex marriage remains illegal, meaning the country is the only country currently part of the G7 union that does not recognize same-sex unions.

Rowles and her rowing partner Whiteley finished Sunday in 6.49.24, more than 11 seconds ahead of the United States and nearly 18 seconds on bronze medalists France.

What is Transverse Myelitis? How a neurological disorder causes inflammation of the spinal cord and can lead to paralysis

The term myelitis refers to inflammation of the spinal cord, transverse refers to the pattern of changes in sensation.

Transverse myelitis is the broad name of the disease and there are several subtypes.

Causes of the condition include infections, sometimes caused by bacteria in raw foods, immune system disorders, and other conditions that can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty white insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers.

Causes of the condition include infections and immune system disorders that destroy myelin, the fatty white insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers

Causes of the condition include infections and immune system disorders that destroy myelin, the fatty white insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers

Causes of the condition include infections and immune system disorders that destroy myelin, the fatty white insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers

Inflammation in the spinal cord interrupts communication between nerve fibers in the spinal cord and the rest of the body, affecting sensation and nerve signaling beneath the injury.

That can lead to paralysis.

The condition can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It does not appear to be genetic or run in families.

Some people recover from spinal cord myelitis with minor or no long-term problems, but most have permanent disabilities that affect their ability to perform ordinary tasks of daily living.

There is no cure for the disease.

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