YORK teenager Antonia Bunyan didn’t even like the sport when she first took up goalball – now it’s on the cusp of taking her to the Paralympic Games.

Introduced to the sport as a child, the experience was far from love at first outing, firstly at junior school and then as part of a club.

But with misunderstandings now patched up, partially thanks to watching on the biggest stage of all, the 19-year-old is certainly thrilled at how things have turned out.

And with a big 12 months to come, a Paralympic dream that Bunyan has had for so long could soon become a reality.

“At first, I didn’t like the sport as I thought it was really hard. Then it grew on me – I watched it in the 2012 Paralympics,” said the Royal National College for the Blind student. “From there, I just fell in love with it. At that point I knew I wanted to become a professional athlete.

“Para sport has given me a lot of opportunity, it’s helped give me a lot of confidence following my sight loss and helping to deal with life, barriers that I might come across.

"It’s opened my mind to other opportunities and shown that I can do more things than I thought I could.

“Goalball’s community is very much a family, everyone who is involved is very understanding towards people in and out of sport – people can be struggling with their conditions but it’s a comfortable environment to be in and really brings your confidence up.

“We’ve got the World Championship qualifiers in June, which are also Paralympic qualifiers. In September, we’re going to Germany for the European Championships, which will be another opportunity to qualify. Then, the Paralympics in 2020 would be great.

“It’s been my dream from a very young age to go to a Paralympic Games, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to fulfil it.”

Bunyan’s cause is also being helped by SportsAid and the Backing The Best programme, which offers critical financial help to talented young athletes who would otherwise face difficulties progressing through their sport’s system.

Backed by £5.5 million of National Lottery funding, Backing The Best presents annual awards of £5,000 per athlete to help with essential costs such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills.

The York athlete was one of dozens of SportsAid athletes who attended workshops at Nottingham Racecourse in April, offering media training, nutrition advice, performance lifestyle guidance and support for parents.

Backing The Best is helping talented young athletes facing the greatest financial pressure to pursue their sporting ambitions. The programme, managed by SportsAid for Sport England, is supported by National Lottery funding. Visit sportengland.org/our–work/talent/backing–the–best/ to find out more.