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?!

Stage set for Simm’s comeback

SOUTHAMPTON’S Kelly Simm may have been out of action since November last year, but she plans to come back with a bang at the British Championships this weekend in Liverpool.

Kelly Simm - credits to Team Solent

Simm back in competition mode – Photo credits to Team Solent

An injury after securing a World Team Bronze medal at the end of 2016 hampered the start of her Olympic season, and despite only just finishing her rehabilitation programme, she feels the pressure is off for this competition.

“There is pressure with any competition, no matter what the size, but it terms of getting results, I don’t feel there is much pressure on me this time round.

“This competition gives me a chance to push on the rest of the season. Me and my coaches are just so happy to be here and it’s a chance to get used to competing in a big arena again.”

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Simm commentated for the BBC in Glasgow, working alongside Matt Baker (pictured)

Simm admits that the preparation leading up to Saturday’s event has been stressful, and having to withdraw from the World Cup event in Glasgow last month was a difficult decision, but the extra time has been beneficial to her recovery: “It has been tough to get things together for this weekend.

“(By not competing in Glasgow), it has allowed me to have the time to finish my rehabilitation plan properly before building my skills back up again. It will be good to be able to push on after this and get back in the gym.”

The 20-year-old expresses her joy being back at the Echo Arena and how lucky she feels to even be competing: “It’s always nice to compete in Liverpool. The British is always such a special competition and the crowd in the arena create an amazing atmosphere for us all!

Despite not performing her hardest elements this weekend, Simm knows there is more to come from this Olympic season: “It’s my first competition of the year due to the setback, and because of injury, I’m not doing all my difficulty.

IMG_1011“I’m just happy I am able to compete on all four pieces, but I’m excited to get back in the gym next week and work on getting the bigger skills together and consolidate them.”

The World University Champion is no stranger to competition at the highest level, helping the GB squad earn a full women’s team in Rio later this year, and is relishing returning to action with the best Britain has to offer.

“Everyone is looking really good at the start of this year and it depends completely on what happens on the day. Gymnastics is so hard to predict!”

And she is right – the women’s event has been blown wide open in the last few months, and with places in Rio up for grabs, this competition could be their defining moment. The Team GB coaches have some difficult decisions to make in the next couple of months.

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Tinkler receiving her all-around trophy in the Team event

16-year-old Amy Tinkler (South Durham) will be looking to retain her all-around British title from 2015 and was the stand-out performer in the British Team event last month in Glasgow, bagging the overall crown, as well as two other trophies for highest scores to add to her growing collection.

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Fragapane mastering a sheet jump on the beam

Meanwhile, 4ft 5in tumbling powerhouse Claudia Fragapane from Bristol Hawks, will mount a very tough challenge to keep her place for Rio. Frags, known for her energetic and innovative dance, already has four gold commonwealth medals to her name from 2014, and could easily increase her tally this weekend.

The likes of Liverpool’s Rebecca Tunney and Ruby Harrold from The Academy have bundles of experience on the GB team after coming through the junior ranks, and their spot on the plane to Rio is far from secure. Tomorrow’s event could catapult them into the coaches’ minds once more.

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Rebecca Downie surprised after finishing a clean routine!

And then we also have double trouble in the Downie sisters. Older sibling, Rebecca, is more of a bars and beam specialist in the last few years and showcased her new routines in Glasgow last month, but could push to go for the all-around title to ensure her trip to Brazil.

Whereas, baby sister Elissa is rapidly climbing through the junior ranks and broke into the senior squad at the end of last year, remaining overwhelmingly consistent across all apparatus and has a genuine chance of the overall title on Saturday, as well as a GB spot.

Finally, Southampton Solent student, Kelly, may be coming back from injury, but the selectors certainly can’t rule her out of the Olympics this summer, with world university titles under her belt.

The women’s event is too close to call, and sparks could fly once more with the British elite fighting to become national champion.