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Seven budding wheelchair athletes pave the way for mass participation disability sports

So just how do you make wheelchair racing, currently the preserve of elite athletes, available to everyone? Well, you start small and aim high. That’s just what The Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair event, and seven budding racers hope to achieve. The mile-long event will take place for the first time, starting and finishing on Clarence Esplanade in Southsea on the 21st October.

Aged from 9 to 42 years and with varying levels of disability, our seven wheelchair racers are training with Paralympic Coach, Rick Hoskins. They got their first taste of what’s to come, after meeting with Rick and getting fitted with race chairs at the end of September.

The Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair event takes place on Saturday 21st October, the day before the Simplyhealth Great South Run, and will set off in between the Simplyhealth Great South 5k and the Simplyhealth Junior and Mini Great South Run.

Alexandra Newton

Alexandra, 16 from Portsmouth, has Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy - which affects all four of her limbs.

Alexandra Newton

— “I think it is hard for disabled people to do any kind of sport, particularly if it’s a physical disability. I believe sport really helps mentally and I feel elated when I train - this could be something for any disabled person to experience. I can’t emphasise enough how it has given me confidence.”

Gus McKechnie

Gus, 42, from Southampton, was born with Cerebral Palsy, but his competitive spirit has enabled him to battle back against his disability.

Gus McKechnie

— “It is really important to have more people involved in sport and staying healthy. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in sports and be a disability world record holder. Attitudes need to change; not just opportunities being created.”

Laura Curwood

Laura, 22 from Sandown, Isle of Wight, is a complete paraplegic, having become paralysed following an extreme reaction to a travel vaccination.

Laura Curwood

— “I’m hoping that The Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair event will help dissolve the illusion that people with a disability cannot take part in physical activity – nobody is exempt from taking part.

“Even if it changes just one person’s point of view, or if a little kid decides to join an after school running club as a wheelchair racer, it will all have been worth it.”

Natasha Settelen

Natasha, 18 from Twickenham, has Cerebral Palsy, which mainly affects her legs. However, she is determined not to let this hold her back from a healthy, active lifestyle. Having discovered wheelchair racing, she is already beginning to make waves in the sport.

Natasha Settelen

— “I think Simplyhealth's campaign is fantastic, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to enjoy sport. Even at this early stage in my training, I’m taking part in The Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair event to show other young people how passionate and excited I am about sport, which might rub off on some of them and inspire them to have a go.”

Sam Walkington

Sam, 10 from Kingston-upon-Thames, has Cerebral Palsy, which affects his whole body but mainly his legs. He finds it difficult to walk far and it affects his balance. Currently he goes to the Weir Archer Academy in Kingston where Jenny Archer MBE is his coach but has never done a race before.

Sam Walkington

— “I was so excited when I first sat in the racing chair, because it looks just like the ones they use in the Paralympics. To be able to have a chair like theirs is a dream come true for me. I’m very lucky to have Paralympic coach Rick Hoskins training me in Portsmouth so I’m ready for the big day!”

Xander Foster

Xander, 9 from West Drayton,was born with a broken back and bilateral talipes, a condition which means he also has deformities to his lower limbs. Despite this, the youngster is already a figure of inspiration to others.

Xander Foster

— “I’m desperate to compete – this will be my first proper race and I just want to get faster and carry on improving my technique.”

Jacob Kennedy

Jacob, 11 from Farnborough, suffers from Cerebral Palsy, but has found wheelchair racing to be a way of keeping physically active despite the difficulties he experiences.

Jacob -resized

Jacob Kennedy

— "I felt very happy and inspired at my first training session. I expect it is going to be hard training for the event but I think I can do it. By training and taking part in the Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair event, I'll feel like I've achieved something special, which makes me feel excited."

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