When Liz Johnson saw the internal processes of her brain at work during Channel 4’s Inside Incredible Athletes programme back in 2010, it not only opened her mind to how cerebral palsy had affected her body.
The defending Paralympic and European 100m breaststroke champion in the SB6 class
was taken to see specialist Dr Simon Farmer, a consultant neurologist specialising in cerebral palsy, to examine the extent of her brain damage in a fascinating CT scan.
The left side of Johnson's brain has been damaged since birth, which severely restricts her movements on the right side of the body, represented by large black blobs across the readings.
However, Dr Farmer revealed how the right side of her brain had effectively taken control of both sides of her body, but was executing movements in her left side less effectively.
"To look at me and the coping strategies my body has adapted and then you see the black area in the scan, it’s a lot bigger than you think it would be just by looking at me," she told C4Paralympics ahead of the British Gas Swimming Championships, the first opportunity to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympics this summer.
What I feel I am doing and what I actually am doing are two completely different things - Liz Johnson
"People just think your arms and your legs don’t work, even though you say it’s cerebral palsy and your brain is damaged.
"They don’t realise the extent of everything else that’s going on in there. Your brain has to compute so much more information with less neurons. So many more people understood the impact of my disability after watching the programme."
Included in that enlightened group were her swimming coach Mark Skimming and now ex-gym coach Alex Natera.
Both men understood they had to change their approach to Johnson's training programme armed with these new revelations.
“My able-bodied team-mates would be shown something and they would have it by the end of the session, whereas for me sometimes it will take six months to fall into place," said Johnson.
“My coaches designed different ways to make their programmes work for me to get the most out of it in the long run.
"Before, my swim coach (Skimming) would always give me verbal feedback and expect me to take it in my the end of the week.
"But, after the programme, we started using a video camera more so I could visualise what he wanted me to do. What I feel I am doing and what I actually am doing are two completely different things.
Our sports have chosen us rather than we’ve chosen our sports - Liz Johnson
"He stopped saying 'Look at how the others are doing it' and started videoing what I was doing and going through the video.
"He would demonstrate where my arms, head, feet should be and, instead of saying 'just put your head down', we would focus on a specific point to look at and that’s when you know your head's in the right place.
"Or where my chin was in relation to my chest, then I know I was in the right place rather than thinking I was in the right place."
Johnson admitted Inside Incredible Athletes had piqued the curiosity of sports fans whose previous exposure of Paralympic sport had been minimal.
It also encapsulated how disabled athletes must understand their disabilities to become the world's best in their events.
"People who like sport but don’t understand the way the Paralympics work see that our sports have chosen us rather than we’ve chosen our sports," Johnson added.
"And it’s not just me. It made people realise that Paralympic sport isn’t the same. You don’t necessarily end up doing the sport you enjoy the most - the sport almost suits the disability."