The trials and tribulations of a Paralympic hopeful – Part One

 

 

alarms4:45am: (Beep, Beep, Beep…) The never-ending, dreaded sound of the alarm in the morning. Except it doesn’t feel like morning when it’s pitch black, and trust me, this was no ordinary day. Today was my first ever paralympic trial, and I had no idea what to expect. Not a Scooby.

I applied for the Paralympic Talent Scheme back in September, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, watching Team GB earn their highest medal haul in history and thought to myself, ‘why not?’ thinking nothing of it at the time. Yet, three weeks later, not one, but three emails confirming my place for the trials made their way into my inbox if I wanted it them, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to turn down that kind of experience.

para-athletics-trackHowever, when I signed up, I was expecting a regional event somewhere fairly local where I’d get to try out a few different sports, meet a few people who may actually make it to Tokyo in 2020 for the GB Squad and I could finally put my sports journalism skills to good use. No. Couldn’t be more wrong if I tried. Instead, I’d be given a 10-12pm session slot half way up the country in Manchester – ridiculously early start it is then…

Whilst I may have been the one getting all hot and sweaty with the gruelling drills, I managed to avoid the four-hour drive each way (thankfully, because I would have fallen asleep at the wheel more times than Garfield says he hates Mondays): That job fell to my fabulously supportive boyfriend – I wouldn’t have been capable of doing half of what I did today without him… or allowing me to kip in the car.

adam-hillsI had no idea what I was walking into or how to react when I arrived at the Etihad Stadium today. I met and spoke to The Last Leg’s Adam Hills (famous for his Paralympic coverage) last weekend, and asked him what to do when being in a room full of ‘disabled’ people. He came back with the best response: “Everyone you’ll meet will be in exactly the same situation as you – no-one knows how to react cause you don’t really round up disabled people often! I had no clue what to do the first time, just be yourself and enjoy the experience.”

He couldn’t have been more right. Most of us were completely new to trials and had been inspired by Team GB; it didn’t matter what we did today, the main aim was to get the most out of the experience and meet people with similar disabilities.

It’s probably time for a bit of context. I am a mild right hemiplegic suffering with Cerebral Palsy. I say suffering – it’s not remotely obvious to the naked eye and I don’t class myself as disabled (I can do pretty much everything… except do buttons up with my right hand…) because I had so much physiotherapy as a baby. But I was unbelievably lucky, I was caught at six weeks old. Most people with CP -including many that I met today – weren’t diagnosed until 18 months, even later. para-athletics-smiles

So I turned my hand to sport, mainly gymnastics, from six months old as a form of physiotherapy to keep my muscles active. Turns out, I may have stood out in the crowd in the warm up alone at the Athletics trials today because of it – my flexibility (which I thought was non-existent) resulted in one of the GB coaches calling over the Head of Paralympic Scouts to watch me lift my leg higher than they had ever seen before whilst sitting in a particularly awkward position on the floor. I’m sure it was a sight to behold… and most certainly something I’m glad I don’t have photographic evidence of!

My first area in Athletics was jumping (mainly long jump for the day) and as it happens, I’m not too shabby at it. As a cheerleader, my jumps are the only thing I can do and do well (tumbles are a no-go with a back like Quasimodo, stunting – not a chance, and I’m more of a show-off than Beyoncé when it comes to the Dance section), and apparently impressed the GB jump coach – I believe his exact words were, “You clearly have a natural talent and ability for long jump. Have you got springs in those trainers?!” Not bad for a person who has no ligaments left in her ankles and rolls both of them on average about five times a week.

para-athletics-talkingOur group of seven were starting to interact a lot more by the time we made it to rotation 2 – sprinting. Of course, I’m not one to keep quiet for very long and ended up talking more than Lorelai in Gilmore Girls, but it was the first time I’d ever had a full-blown conversation with people with CP and I couldn’t help myself; my inquisitive nature kicked in. Or another way to put it – I’m nosy.

I’ve never really been one for running; between the gammy ankles and a distinct lack of stamina, I wasn’t really expecting miracles, but I thought I’d have a crack at it. Maybe sprinting would be better because it’s a shorter distance? Wrong again. Admittedly, it was only 40 metres for the coaches to get an idea of our speed. I’ll give you a hint, I wasn’t about to beat Usain Bolt in a race anytime soon, but there may be a glimmer of hope if I put a pair of roller blades on instead!

para-athletics-action-shotThe throwing events aren’t exactly my cup of tea either. I’m more akin to doing the splits on a crate of fire rather than managing to do anything more than a pansy throw. Still, it was all part of the experience, which I wouldn’t have changed for the world. I’m not expecting anything out of the trial, for me it’s just another story to tell and possibly a chance get some journalism work out of it; a callback for phase two would just be the icing on the cake.

But I’m not done yet. One trial down. two to go. Track Cycling should be interesting considering I struggle immensely with cornering on a bike, let alone balance, and Triathlon may be the death of me, but I promise to write about it before collapsing in a heap.

Three Paralympic Trials, five weeks – what could possibly go wrong?!

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Snipers Cheerleading Academy smash their first ever competition

Snipers full comp squad

The Senior Cheer team before going on stage

DESPITE being formed just seven months ago, Snipers Cheerleading Academy placed all seven of their routines in the top three at the Autumn Allstar competition in Eastbourne last weekend.

The squad, based in Hounsdown, topped the standings in four different categories, coming first in all three pairs dance routines, as well as in the highest level senior stunt team in the entire competition.

In addition to the first placed trophies, Snipers also came home with a 2nd and 3rd in the open and junior level 2 stunt teams respectively, but it was the Senior Cheer routine that was the most pleasing result of the weekend for the club.

This was the first and only chance for the full squad to show their potential before Nationals in March. With only one fall in the two and a half minute routine, the 18-man squad produced a stunning performance, taking 2nd out of eight teams, and just 0.75 away from category favourites, Vista Twisters in first.

Sam Youren - Head Coach

Sam works alongside a committee to run the club

Snipers Head Coach, Sam Youren, believes her squad have achieved everything and more from their goals they set for their first competition, but wants to push the team further for Nationals. “I am completely overwhelmed by the results this weekend.

“For a brand new squad, we have exceeded every other teams’ expectations of us, and even though we had brilliant results, there are still a lot of things we need to work on for March. Nationals will be a bigger competition and we can’t become complacent, just because of what we have already achieved.”

Dance Captain Eva Newton + pair routines winners

Dance Coach Eva Newton with Junior Pair winners, Amy and Chloe

It is not just the Head Coach who is looking to improve the squad. Dance Coach, Eva Newton, who choreographed the senior cheer routine, as well as the three winning pair routines, says: “There were some mistakes and need to work on tighter arm lines throughout the dance sections, but all the hard work paid off.

“Now we have competed for the first time, we now understand what the judges like and don’t like so I know what to work on for the next event, but our team is a family. I am so proud of them.”

And this is not the first time the club has been noticed in the local community. In September, Snipers Cheerleading were recognised in a national competition run by Miller Homes, and won a £500 grant to put towards new training facilities.

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Miller Homes came down to Hounsdown and got involved with the stunting!

They have all ages and abilities within the squad, as well as boys and girls, and welcome beginners and ex cheerleaders/gymnasts for training sessions. For more information about training times or queries on starting with the club, contact Sam on samyouren@yahoo.co.uk

Snipers Cheerleading Head Coach is vying for top spot at Nationals with brand new squad

11130226_10153831678254922_6390578610167157099_nSnipers Cheerleading Academy may have only been up and running since Easter, but their coach targets a National title in their first full season.

The squad, based in Hounsdown in the New Forest, are aiming for the same success they had with Southern Sirens Cheerleading Squad, before relations within the team broke down and all members made the transition four months ago.

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Head Coach Sam Youren is taking 7 routines to the Eastbourne competition in just 10 weeks’ time

Sam Youren, Snipers Head Coach, sees their first competition in Eastbourne in early November as a warm up to the National Championships in March, but doesn’t want to pressurise her new team.

“We’ve had a lot of success in the past few years at Eastbourne and I want the team to do well after putting in so much time and effort over the last few months. But I know that it may be a little scary for some of the newest members.

“There’s a lot of good competitive squads going in November, but I don’t see why we couldn’t place in the top three – our stunts are harder, our dance is faster and tighter, we could do really well as long as no-one panics.”

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Lia Jackson raised over £300 alone to help Snipers reach their target

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the new team, and uniforms do not come cheap for cheerleaders. To kick-start their sponsorship, one plucky parent completed a 10,000ft skydive just two weeks ago raising over £2300 to cover the costume costs of everyone in the squad.

There are other fundraising ideas coming up for Snipers, with bag-packing at their local stores and performing at events being the main options for new safety equipment and training facilities.

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Lia caught in the act on the way down

If you would like to donate to their JustGiving page, please follow this link:

http://www.gofundme.com/y8wa9h6x?fb_action_ids=10154061945224922&fb_action_types=og.shares&fb_ref=fb_cr_n

To hear more on the skydive story, click the link below for video footage:

Bournemouth Falcons Cheer Squad celebrate a great season with awesome showcase

BU Falcons' opening number at the Showcase

BU Falcons’ opening number at the Showcase

Bournemouth Falcons Cheerleading Squad capped off an impressive season with a brilliant showcase of their talents in Southampton.

The event at Redbridge School was to raise money for next season’s team, going towards entry fees for competitions, costumes and cheer uniforms and travelling costs, and built up a total of £400 just from Sunday’s showcase.

Bow and Arrow in extension

Bow and Arrow in extension

Cheerleading routines involve a number of areas of gymnastics, dance, jumps and acrobatics, which the Falcons showed to family and friends, as well as moments of audience participation, where they were taught stunts and competed in dance-offs.

Georgia Daniel, a second year student and club treasurer, saw the event as a way to show family and friends how the sport can bring people together:

“Showing off the result of all our hard work to the people we love was a great way to finish off a great year. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the team for two years now and I’ll definitely be trying out again next year.

“We are all such good friends and it’s amazing to be able to spend so much time together training, at events and competing. We’re like a family!”

This isn’t the first fundraising event they have attended this year; they have also helped out at the children’s charity, Hadland Foundation and raised money for the British Heart Foundation amongst many others throughout the academic year.

IMG_0007Their first competitive meet in Exeter in March came with great success, coming second in their category for the cheer routine and placing third in both the level three stunt team and small pom – the first time they have attempted a dance routine.

This continued at the National championships in Telford just a month later, with the biggest surprise produced by the pom team, coming third again, but this time, out of 15 teams from across the country’s universities.

Since Anna Busby (an ex Bournemouth University student) formed the cheerleading team three years ago, the squad have gone from strength to strength, with tryouts at the beginning of each season attracting over 200 students from all academic and sporting backgrounds.

Stunt teams showing off their heel stretches

Stunt teams showing off their heel stretches

Busby still remains as the Head Coach of the Falcons, with support from Lucy Darrall, who has been captain of the squad for the 2014/15 season.

If you are starting or are doing a course at Bournemouth University in September and are interested in joining the team, follow the Falcons on Instagram and Twitter (@BUFalcons) or click on the link below for more details:

http://bufalcons.com/index.php

It’s my anniversary!

untitled (17)For most people, today is just another crappy Monday morning where they’re stuck at their desks until at least 5pm trying to catch up on the weekend’s work and deal with the mother of all hangovers from Saturday night. But for me, it’s a little different. For me, today’s an anniversary. Of sorts…

Six months ago today, I was surrounded by sick people, doctors still trying to wake up and a ward-full of elderly women’s asses on show. Yes, I was stuck in a hospital bed. I think I would have preferred gauging my eyes out with forks than being there (and after some of the sights I saw, that actually became a viable option!).

1233978_10205143372366231_5360710867537749568_nBut it was for a good cause; I wasn’t just there because I was bored and had escaped from the Priory. That gloomy Tuesday in November was the day I would finally get my shoulder fixed after three and a half years of constant agony. Admittedly, I thought the pain would dissipate straight away, maybe a week or two of no driving?

How wrong was I?!

It became pretty obvious I had set the bar way higher than I should have done, but I was about to be brought back down to earth faster than Usain Bolt runs the 100 metres. My estimations were a little out – the pain wouldn’t disappear for a good eight weeks, I wouldn’t drive for nearly three months (well, I may have attempted to a little before that date, but the doctors don’t need to know that) and wouldn’t be able to do strenuous fitness for a whole year.

Well this post is to show that these dates are just guidelines. I’m aware that my shoulder will still keep improving until November and I will only get stronger from here on in, but I am finally back doing what I love the most; cheerleading.

It may be 6 months earlier than the doctors predicted, and I’m still gently easing myself back into it – like the good little girl I have to be – but after over four years of pain and stressing of making the reoccurring injury worse, I can actually relax and enjoy my passion again. I have to tell you, it’s the best feeling in the world.

imagesWNHZV8A7And to top It all off, Saturday was the first time in about two years that I was able to tumble properly. I’m fully aware I’m nowhere near being able to call myself a gymnast, I’m not sure I was ever able to call myself that, and I’m certain a sprung floor was working wonders, but I was doing handsprings and pushing off my shoulder without it even hurting. I’m back!!

Despite these last few months probably being the toughest of my life and feeling so degraded the whole time, (the worst by far was not being able to wash my hair without assistance, and the physical impossibility of cutting up food. I felt like a two year old) untitled (12)there is light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s the main message in this – if there’s anyone reading this post and is going through something similar, it will get better. Your confidence may get shattered, but the people around you will help to build it up again, until you hit that stage where you’re smiling more than you were before the pain. Those long days of agony, popping pills like they’re candy and not being able to sleep on one side will improve. There is hope!

Just keep smiling through the pain until you’re just smiling. Honestly, it is worth al the suffering.

Southern Sirens smash it in Paris!

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New Forest-based Cheerleading squad, Southern Sirens, defied setbacks galore to return home as international champions, with 16 European trophies to their name.

Overcoming everything from a missing passport to endless hospital visits due to illness and injury, the squad coped brilliantly under immense pressure, changing patterns and the routines up to 15 minutes before performing.

The Future Cheer event in the French capital was the squad’s first international competition, and placed in the top three in all but one of their 17 routines, despite only having 16 cheerleaders taking part.

Months of hard work and determination came down to single performances on the day, with a range of individual and group routines. The Hampshire team rose to the occasion, winning seven of the categories, including both senior dance routines.

Roxanne Edmonds, Head Coach of the Sirens, said: “Despite the unfortunate setbacks, we have performed amazingly, and the results show it. I’m very proud of the squad and how they were able to adapt to changes so quickly, as well as produce outstanding routines.”

A mixture of gymnastic tumbles, jumps, stunts (or throwing people in the air) and choreography are the key components to a successful routine, but the execution of these moves are what distinguishes the elite teams.

Sirens’ fiercest opponents came from Carshalton Crystals, based on the outskirts of London, and also travelled the English Channel to compete in Paris. However, the local team outwitted their rivals, beating them in most of the categories.

Southern Sirens’ next challenge is in three weeks’ time in Telford, as they take on the UK’s best at the National Championships; with a bid to earn their place on the world stage in their sights, they will be fighting for the title of ‘champions’ even more.

If you would like to get involved in Cheerleading, email roxanneis@hotmail.co.uk for more details. Classes are open from the age of four up to open seniors (anyone over the age of 18) All are welcome.