In Summer 2011, I saw a retweet by Tom Riordan, CEO of Leeds Council, of an LCC Sport tweet. Not that unusual, you may think, I’m on Twitter all the time. However, the content of the tweet itself intrigued me.
It linked to a flyer, inviting women aged 25-40 who did not currently take part in sport to join a 10 week Active Women programme.
At any other time in my life, I would have recoiled in horror. I avoided PE where possible at school and had a miserable experience whenever sport was involved throughout my youth. I was rubbish, and my disabilities hadn’t been diagnosed, so I was the reluctant Wing Defence/deep field/running forever up and down the sides of the hockey pitch/insert position for people who are terrible at team games here.
However, I had recently turned 30, and my body, to my horror had decided to change. I realised I was going to have to get active. I had followed the 30 Day Shred DVD, with adaptations, and that was the first exercise I’d done other than walking quickly as a mode of transport and the odd swim in a hotel pool for pleasure in 15 years. To be fair, I'd done as little as possible before that. Even on a summer holiday tennis week, my sister was playing with gusto and I was relegated to batting a ball against a line on the wall. Or failing to.
I emailed Laura, the lady running the programme, andshe set my mind at ease. I found the Active Women programme difficult, but over time I started to really enjoy bits of it and was glad I had done it. I also went to a gym for the very first time, and Matthew at Armley who did my induction also has CP so he knew which machines to recommend.
I was even invited to an Active Women photoshoot for marketing future sessions.
I then had a degree to finish and self-employment to wind up and jobs to apply for, so it all got a bit neglected until I watched the Olympics and Paralympics and felt annoyed that I had never been able to properly take part in sport when I was younger. I loved watching athletics, and attended live events, but all the not-very-good people got to do at school was endless middle distance runs and cross country. No jumps, no throws, no sprints. I never got to have a go.
I contacted Laura and asked about disability athletics in Leeds. She said there were sessions for learning disabled athletes at John Charles Centre for Sport in Middleton, and I was welcome despite not being LD. The first few times I was nervous and she went with me. Then I found I loved sprinting, which is what I love to watch too.
I outgrew those sessions as my fitness improved. I wanted to find a pathway and find out what I could do and where I could go. I did lots of research online, as is my wont, and I found out that there was a Parallel Success Talent ID event coming up at the EIS in Sheffield in March 2013. Shelley Holroyd from British Athletics was very helpful and answered all my questions and was a very friendly face on the day.
I had a brilliant time - I may have been one of the older participants and certainly not one of the fastest, but I got to train with Paralympians and it confirmed for me that I didn't care how hard it was or how unlikely it seemed, I wanted to train hard and compete. I had a bit of an Aspie wobble at the end of the day and had to get my husband to help me go over to Shelley to ask about getting a proper coach. I needn't have worried, she understood my anxiety completely and immediately put me at my ease.
Through that meeting, I got my own athletics coach, Katie Mapplebeck, in May 2013, and now I train on the track 2-3 times a week with Katie and my university club (coached by Martin Cook), train for shot put once a week (coached by Pete Blakemore) and go to the gym for strength and conditioning and fast twitch development 2-3 times a week, plus hill and park sessions.
I went on to be classified as a T36 and F36 athlete and became national champion in the 100m in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and won the CP Sport track trophy for senior women in 2014 and field trophy in 2015 - having taken up shot put at the end of the 2014 season.
In November 2014, I was invited to join the British Athletics Parallel Success Academy, which has aided my progress as an athlete, and my goal now is to move up to the Talent Development squad and eventually Team GB. I am also a member of the University of Sheffield Elite Sports Performance Scheme and was Highly Commended in Leeds Sports Awards.
To further my goals, since September 2014 I have been working with Nottingham-based integrated athlete support team oneathlete. Tim offers strength and conditioning support, working closely with Gemma on the physio side of things, and Jacko sorts out the mindset and nutrition aspects so important to being a high-performing athlete. I found meeting with them hugely helpful and have regularly reviewed my programme as I have got stronger.
Closer to home, I regularly receive sports massage therapy from Jan Adamowski, and this was invaluable at the end of the 2015 season as I had niggles that could easily have developed into real injuries, whereas I ended the season on a new personal best, having consistently knocked off over half a second from my PB every season since I started in the sport.
In 2016, I want to undertake warm weather training, because while I train hard in winter, I am limited by what my body will let me do and my CP and the cold do not interact well. This will make a big difference to my season, especially the early events that determine selections for the invitational competitions. I also want to compete in the IPC Grand Prix, particularly in Berlin, as the level of competition there from a high quality field will really challenge me as an athlete. Long term, I want to compete at the IPC World Championships in London in 2017, and the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020.