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?!


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.

Miller Homes - Snipers Cheerleaders-019

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

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:

The adventurous tales of Miss Martin

Becky with others in the scheme

Becky with others in the YFC scheme

Five weeks ago, Becky left our cosy office in Southampton to throw herself into a year-long project, teaching kids dance and perform as part of the Youth for Christ (YFC) scheme. Despite it being a completely new challenge, she’s settling in brilliantly.

Week 1 was a training week and meeting the other volunteers on the programme, but the real fun began in the second week up in Birmingham; being thrown in at the deep end, Becky had to contend with a temporary host home as well as the hefty timetable.

Luckily, her temporary move was made much easier by the woman she was staying with. She had been part of Stance (the street crew) for two years and calmed any nerves of the scheme and moving away.

Most days are spent learning choreography and creating workshop routines to teach later in the week or the year, and the evenings consist of the youth work. The kids are lovely (most are from the church, but there are some that are new) but nerves kicked in before the first Friday.

Normally, around 150 13-16 year olds turn up every week but Becky coped very well, proving she’s definitely in the right place. The church (Zion Christian Centre) has about 500 members so it can be chaos, but it’s worth every minute of it.

Now all settled into her proper host home for the next year, the lady she’s staying with goes to the church and knows the ins and outs (which is quite handy!) To make the deal even sweeter, the house is only a 30 minute walk away, so Becky’s getting plenty of exercise at the moment!

Fort Rocky

Fort Rocky – the training camp

Fort Rocky (a group specialising in youth weekends away) invited the street crew to Litchfield on 19th September and put them all through their paces. Becky and her team not only looked after the children, but the youth leaders too who would normally look after the young people. The most nerve-wrecking part of the trip was being asked to host a session and telling them her experiences with God. But after explaining her reasons for joining YFC and Stance to the young people, the response was incredible. Even one of the young leaders thanked her for her story.

Last Saturday was an early start for Becky, taking part in her first mission for Stance, and toured Reigate – near Gatwick – with Nomad (YFC’s other touring crew), a cage football team. Organising 50 children between the ages of 5 and 11 which was a challenge for her but she came through the other side.

Becky 2

Becky practicing the choreography

Teaching a dance workshop for 45 minutes and watching the kids improve must be one of the most rewarding parts of her gap year so far, and it is just a sign of things to come.

Even though all of us in the office are missing her, we’re proud of our girl. Keep it up Becky, and keep donating to get her to her £1500 target!