Spirit in Motion

Spirit in Motion’, what do these words conjure up for you? The flight of a swallow returning for summer? A fast-moving ghost? Vodka being spilled in a night club? The words are in fact, the motto of the Paralympic Games. Thanks to an interesting commission I’ve had the chance to explore and learn more about the games and the spirit of the competitors.

It is a nerve-wracking honour to create an object that represents the pinnacle of someone’s focus, training and achievement. It needs to be as right as possible for that individual, and to capture the sense of occasion and identity that they want to express. There was no exception when Paralympic gold medalist, Jo Frith, spun into the shop in her wheelchair and asked me to make her a ring to mark her success in the Rio Paralympics 2016.

Jo won both Silver and Gold medals for archery during the Rio games, and was part of the historic para-archery podium sweep – gold, silver and bronze for Great Britain!

I have to confess to being as non-sporty as you can imagine. At school I was the girl who waited awkwardly while the teams were decided, and was left as last choice for the team that had drawn the short straw! There was one occasion when I could have caught a rounders ball. I was in the right place at the right time, but unfortunately facing the wrong way, watching a buzzard and eating a tasty handful of blackberries from the hedge!

A visit to the 2012 Paralympics in London with my three young children completely changed my perception of sports however. The events we saw were totally inspiring. The atmosphere of excitement, support, and healthy competition gave the stadium a remarkable buzz. The sheer brilliance of the athletic achievements from the competitors was captivating and humbling. An electric aura of ‘anything is possible’ rubbed off onto us, we carried it home and we can still feel it.

I asked Jo what it felt like when she released she’d won a medal, and how was that moment on the podium? Interestingly, her experience was not as I imagined. In her first event she won a Silver medal. ’Wow!’ I spluttered… ‘No!’ said Jo, ‘I was disappointed – I wanted Gold, that’s what I’d trained so hard for!’ In the next event the gold medal was hers! She told of the ensuing hour, when TV broadcasts and competition schedules dictated the celebrations. I imagined her enjoying the rapture of success, sense of achievement and pride in receiving the medals, but in reality it was a whirlwind of pressure; getting changed for the podium, being in the right place at the right time, being photographed and leaving the area promptly for the next event to start.

She described the years of training she had done on being able to focus with almost ‘tunnel vision’ completely and utterly on the competition. I got the impression that perhaps it was in the quiet moments of reflection in the months after the games that Jo really understood the impact of her years of training, dedication and achievement. It had taken a year to decide on this commission, and she had thought carefully about the design and what the important elements were to be. This was useful to me, as I had a good understanding on which to base some practical designs.

We worked on designs together and finalised a stylish, pretty and practical band ring. To represent Jo’s silver and gold medals, there was one fine sparkling white diamond and one rare natural ‘canary’ yellow diamond. The background band was in Fair-trade yellow gold, mined in South America. Jo wanted the Paralympic logo to be the central focal point, created as a raised motif in contrasting white gold. The logo is made of three curving crescents known as ‘Agitos’ (Latin for ‘I move’), representing the multiple nations of the world that unite to participate. This was quite poignant, as Jo and many of her fellow competitors felt deeply moved by some of the extremes between cultures, wealth and poverty they witnessed in Rio. From my own experience of the games, I sensed a deep-seated foundation of equality, respect and fairness.

To make the ring, I mixed and melted the gold alloy into an ingot, then formed it into a long strip using rolling mills. These apply pressure to squeeze the gold to the desired thickness. The band is then curved round using pliers and by hammering into a curved former (swage block) It is joined by heating and soldering. I created the Agitos and diamond settings from white gold and soldered them in place. The ‘Rio 2016‘ was hand engraved on equal sides of the centre point – giving it a sense of balance.

As a special treat, Jo kindly bought her medals to show us. It was fascinating to see them. They are embossed with intricate patterns and braille for visually impaired. Bells inside the hollow core create a different sound for Gold, Silver and Bronze. The gold was the loudest, and the volume decreased in silver and bronze!

I was nervous when the time came for Jo to collect the ring, I hoped I had done justice to her remarkable achievements – thankfully she was delighted and wore it at the following night’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

…’What is important is that we have the ability to create… This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics… However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”

Professor Stephen Hawking, opening the 2012  Paralympic Games