PARIS (Reuters) - When Marie Patouillet was forced to give up running due to a foot malformation in her late 20s, she turned to para-cycling as a new means to perform.
The 35-year-old Frenchwoman brought back two bronze medals from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games on the track and she now looks set to take part in the Paris 2024 Olympics after claiming the paracycling road race world title last year.
Sport, however, is also a platform for Patouillet, also a gay rights activist, to raise awareness against discrimination on any basis, be it gender, sexual orientation or disability.
"Anybody can do sport, can even dream of high-level sport. And on top of that, I also want to show that we can change things," the athlete, who was voted Sporting Personality of the Year by French gay magazine Tetu this year, told Reuters.
A general practitioner who put her medicine career on pause with the Olympics in sight, Patouillet carefully chooses sponsors aligned with her views, such as French sports equipment retailer Decathlon, known in France for taking a progressive stand on various issues, and regularly speaks out against discriminatory practices.
In her Parisian apartment, where she lives with her wife, a poster reads: "Dykes are family. I've got all my sisters with me."
In 2022, she sported rainbow-coloured hair at the 2022 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships in a bid to spark conversation on LGBTQIA+ rights.
"Athletes who left an impression on me through their activist commitments to fight against discrimination, they are rather Anglo-Saxon. In France, it's still complicated to find athletes who really take a stand on these subjects," she said.
"I hope that the (2024) Games in Paris will give rise, or at least be an opportunity for certain athletes, to speak out on these subjects and that, after that, there will be changes on this."
(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)