On the eve of the 2016 Paralympics...
Tomorrow is the start of the 2016 Paralympics with the Opening Ceremony over in Rio. This time 4 years ago, the fact that London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony was tomorrow, was as insignificant to me as to what my next door neighbour was having for dinner that night. I was not interested at all. I was happy that Paralympians as disabled people were in the limelight for once, but this is as far as it went. Sport was boring. I couldn't do sport. Sport made me feel stupid. I hadn't participated in PE for at least 4 years. I enjoyed PE and I was an active member of the school's trampoline club as well as their disability sports lunch time club up until the end of Year 8, but after this it all became a bit too embarrassing and I would have rather have done anything but sport.
Nothing else worth of a watch was on the TV on the night of the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony. "Oh, I may as well have a bit of background noise" I thought as I settled with Channel 4. I didn't see much of the Opening Ceremony as I was being a typical 17-year-old, sat on my laptop and phone.
The following day, I returned back to school for the start of Year 13. Lots of people were asking me, "Ellie, did you watch the Paralympic Opening Ceremony last night?!". As a 17-year-old girl in a mainstream school, I was almost obsessed with just 'fitting in'. Whilst I would have never have denied I had Cerebral Palsy, I preferred to not really acknowledge it - it was there, but only in the background. I wondered why everyone was going on about the Paralympics. I was very head strong - sport was not for me. I held this viewpoint that yes, Paralympians were disabled, but they were 'obviously' much more able-bodied than me. They were doing sport for goodness sake!
When I returned home that day, I couldn't concentrate on my homework. I flicked the TV on to see if having it on in the background would help. It was on Channel 4 from the previous night. I looked at the TV and then back down at my work. 5 minutes later, I looked at the TV again and back down at my work. 10 minutes later, I did it again. It was at this point my attention started to be grabbed. I couldn't believe what I was watching. People, just like myself, doing the most exciting & incredible things!
Watching the Paralympics turned into a bit of a guilty pleasure. I had an argument going on in my head - 'sport isn't for you, remember? You don't like sport. Sport laughs at you' vs 'look at them doing that with the same type of Cerebral Palsy as you! You can do this. You leave school in 8 months time, it is time for a new adventure."
Photo credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2200823/Paralympics-2012-Viewers-verdict-closing-ceremony.html
As I watched more & more and witnessed more & more Paralympians with varying levels of disability doing every sport under the sun, the second argument of 'Yes I can' took over and won. I sat down to watch the Closing Ceremony, from start to finish, with a great deal of sadness - how can it be over? 'Inspired' is probably a very over used word in this case, but, I have never been so inspired by a single thing as I was by the London 2012 Paralympics. As I watched the Paralympic Flame go out, I promised myself I would get into sport somehow. Any sport.
As a total 'newbie' to the world of sport, after searching high & low for any opportunity I could get my hands on and being unsuccessful in this search, I drew a blank. The 'No I can't' argument came back to play - I told you so, there are no opportunities out there for you Ellie, concentrate on your A Levels.
A few months later, a glimmer of hope came my way. I was on Twitter, and of course, I was following Paralympics GB from my mad, new found love I had from the 2012 Paralympics. Paralympics GB had tweeted:
"INSPIRED BY 2012? COME & TRY AT SHEFFIELD!"
That single tweet, as it turned out, changed my life forever. I signed up straight away. I was grinning for days, but as the 'come & try day' got nearer & nearer, I was unsure whether or not to go. Yet again, the 'No I can't' argument came back. I was going to do sport and in a public place. This was nowhere within my comfort zone despite everything I had learned and took away from the 2012 Paralympics.
My parents convinced me to go. They said 'nothing ventured, nothing gained!'. So, off we went and I thank all of my lucky stars and my parents that we did. It was the best day of my life - and, the first day of the rest of my life.
I fell in love with Athletics, the 'Club Throw' to be precise - an event for athletes with Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy like myself. Shelley, from Parallel Success at British Athletics, identified me as a potential Club Thrower as soon as I walked into the 'come & try day'. She is the first person I met on my 'sporting journey' and for this reason I will never forget her and I am extremely thankful. I got assigned to a coach, Andrew who is still my coach (and a wonderful one!) today, and I joined the City of Sheffield AC.
The 'come & try it' day
2 years later, I was competing in the Club Throw at a competition when I saw this 'thing' moving at speed down the track. Track events were always out of the question for me - I have not got the balance or stability to sprint, nor have I got the hand control to propel a racing wheelchair. But, wow, this 'thing' I could most definitely do! The 'thing' I later found out was called a RaceRunner - a specialised sprinting frame resembling a tricycle without pedals. I rushed along to the next CP Sport RaceRunning Taster Day and absolutely fell in love with this incredible sport. I purchased a RaceRunner straight away and entered the next competition a few months later with a glimmer of hope of running the qualifying time for the 2015 World CP Games.
Amazingly, I qualified for the Games in both RaceRunning & the Club Throw leading to my selection. I was the happiest girl alive. All of my dreams were coming true! If only I knew what was yet to come. I won Double Gold (100m & 200m) and became Double World Champion 2015, as well as being the fastest RR2 (classification) female in the world. I also won a Bronze in the Club Throw at the World Games. The World Games were absolutely incredible & CP Sport enabled all of my wildest dreams to become a reality. I still look at my photos from the World Games often and just grin! Thank you so much CP Sport.
At the World CP Games
I don't say this lightly - sport has changed my life. Aside from actually physically doing sport, it has given me some very special & dear friends - especially Matthew and the rest of the RaceRunners, Rafi, Clare, Orla, Thomas, Muninder, Gavin, Lauren... Physically, I am able to do so much more and my hand control has vastly, vastly improved. Confidence was a big issue to me prior to my life in sport, and it still is to some extent, but I am like a totally new person who doesn't shy away at every possible opportunity. 2 years ago, I started a degree in Sport Development with Coaching. This was a huge leap and gamble for me, but again I haven't looked back since, I've overcome my fear of being in an able-bodied sporting environment as a disabled person and I am about to return for my 3rd year.
So, what is the message of this blog? It is a cliche saying, but, always follow your dreams. I know it is hard as dreams often seem so far out of reach. But, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Always try new things. As the Paralympic Flame is relit tomorrow night, I can truly say I honoured my promise and 'I did it!'. And who knows, RaceRunning might be an approved Paralympic sport by the time Tokyo 2020 arrives.
This weekend, I visited the London Olympic Park for the first time to run 5k on my RaceRunner in an event known as 'Parallel London'. It sounds ridiculous, but actually seeing the Park for the first time with my own eyes made me a bit emotional. This is the place that changed my life for the better from afar, and there I was running 5k around it. Wow. I hit my head on my Premier Inn pillow that night over looking the Olympic Park as an incredibly happy girl!
At the Olympic Park this weekend