So, I normally blog mid-week, but I just couldn't wait that long this week! On Saturday, at SportCity Manchester Indoor Track & Stadium, I officially became an F32 Paralympic Athlete under British Athletics! I have been training and have been a athlete under my Athletics Club for 9 months now, but Saturday was truly the 'make or break' point. I have been training for the Club Throw (the Paralympic version of the Hammer Throw) in the hope and anticipation British Athletics would classify me so I am allowed to participate in it. It's all to do with your level of disability so athletes have a fair playing field. There have been doubts over the past 9 months as to whether or not British Athletics would put me into a Club Throw classification, with my coach being told at a Paralympics GB Conference that 'I'll never get it as I can walk', and even on Friday night whilst training on home ground at Sheffield, a classifier who happened to be around for some reason, being 'shocked' at how well I could stand and hold myself and she expressed that 'I might get it, but she'd be surprised'. Yet, others were saying, 'I'd eat my hat if you weren't an F32!'.
One thing that has always been the case with me, and especially over the past 9 months, is that I'm a 'very weird case of CP'! I have Quadriplegic Dystonic Athetoid CP (such a mouthful!) and very few people with this can actually walk, I've witnessed physios watch me with their mouths open before! However, even though my CP doesn't affect my legs/walking as it 'should' do and I have trunk control of someone with very mild CP, it affects my upper body just as you would expect my type of CP to. This is what made people doubt my classification. Basically, in a nutshell, I could have possibly been to able-bodied for my chosen sport (Club Throw), but too disabled for the other events, for example, the javelin, which would have just been dangerous due to having virtually no hand control, unwanted movements, impaired grip and the inability to let go of things quickly. So, as I said, Saturday was really 'make or break' with athletics as I could have been left with no event to do and athletics for me could have stopped there.
Before I went into my classification, I had to sign a declaration form to say that 'I understood it would be stressful, that I could find it distressing and it will push me to my maximum physical limit', at which point I was literally like, 'what on earth is going to happen to me in there?!!', but honestly, this was clearly nothing more than a disclaimer as I personally didn't find it stressful at all, if anything, I was fascinated! The only slight 'discomfort' was when they used a sharp metal thing to scratch the bottom of my feet to test my reflexes; it turned out that they couldn't even get a reading for this anyway as my CP makes me too sensitive to stuff like this. At this point, Hannah Cockroft's coach (how amazing!) said to me, 'don't worry Ellie, I'll give you the number for Childline after this!' ... although obviously the classification was a serious thing, as you can see there was nothing intimidating, Hannah's coach even had a conversation about the Arctic Monkeys and The Leadmill in Sheffield with me half way through! I found that the classification was only like a routine appointment with an Orthopaedic Consultant, you just had to lie on a bed and be pulled around and perform different tasks.
I was so, so impressed with the knowledge that the classification team had, we all said that they really did seem to have more knowledge about me and my CP than some of the medical 'professionals'. After a thorough 45 minute assessment, I was given 4 options:
1. T32 Wheelchair Racer - but there are hardly any athletes who do this, even worldwide, so I would have an extremely boring time, i.e. I probably would never even see outside of Sheffield as there's nobody else out there!
2. Ambulant Thrower (can't remember the number code!) - this was javelin, discus and shot. I explained the javelin problem further up, and I can't grip a discus or a shot! The Club cannot be thrown stood up.
3. Sprinter (again, I've forgot the number code!) - the minimum distance for sprinting is 100m, and I'm very lucky to manage 50m on a good day! My coach jokingly said, 'how about in a race, we do 50m, pause the race and have a rest, and then resume for the second half?'!
4. F32 Seated Thrower - well, we were absolutely delighted with this option! We were sent away to discuss it but as soon as we got outside we were like 'F32 YES!'.
When we returned to say what we felt was best, they said 'We're so glad you've said that, we're not allowed to push you down a given route, but we felt F32 was perfect too! You'll have great fun in F32 and you're definitely the one to watch if you continue throwing like you are!'. I don't think delighted even covers it! They even said it was looking likely that I'm towards the top of F32!
So, I now can officially compete as a Paralympic Athlete under my F32 classification! I am currently in the process of entering myself for competitions in May, June & September, so scary but so exciting! To think that this time last year I was stressing about passing my A Level exams, and a year on, I'm stressing about Paralympic Competitions .... but this is an exciting stress, not a boring, pulling teeth, sitting in a classroom stress!
I can now not wait to get back to athletics on Wednesday and really put everything in now I know exactly what I'm competing in and who I'm competing against! It was also quite amazing to be amongst lots of other disabled youngsters/athletes (lots of them had CP!), I could totally be myself and it's a massive confidence boost! There was a room full of people just like me, and wheelchairs whizzing everywhere, it was almost like 'oh, my wheelchair is cooler than yours!'.
It was also a bit surreal as I went to SportCity and the Athletics Arena 8 years ago with school, as a Year 7 to watch the Paralympics. I remember exactly where we sat and it was torrential rain all day. It was so weird to be back 8 years later as a Paralympic Athlete with school children watching me!
Thank you so much to Andy (my coach) for giving up your weekend and traveling all the way to Manchester just to support me, this man never stops ... he was still coaching me in Sheffield at 7pm Friday night and he was there waiting for me at the Manchester stadium at 9am Saturday morning, and he does it because he 'loves it'! And, he coached able-bodied athletes up until June last year, with me being his first paralympic athlete ... you'd honestly think he'd been doing it for years! My success is/will definitely be your success, not mine!