Tag Archives: athletics

I broke my spine, but became a wheelchair racer

Lizzie Williams is a full time student studying Sport, Health and Exercise Science. She has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and is also a wheelchair racer and a T54 British Athlete.

She talked to us about her long journey to wheelchair racing and the expectations she has exceeded along the way.

The hydropool is sort of where my sporting journey began. Swimming in a pool was the only really physical activity I could do. As you are weightless in water, there’s obviously no pressure on your bones. I started that when I was really little.

I came back home and started training with a local group, got scouted for the ParalympicsGB team and was heading in the right direction for the London games but in 2012 I discovered that I had broken my back. Everything just sort of ground to a halt. I couldn’t do anything physical at all. My fracture wasn’t stable so I didn’t want to risk anything.

In 2013 I had the surgery on my back. After my surgery I was supposed to be in hospital for five days and they said I’d be walking out of there in a couple of weeks. I woke up from my surgery and I could barely move from the waist down. It went a bit tits-up I suppose you could say!

Having to learn everything again

I was in hospital for three and a half months learning to walk again. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t even go to the toilet. I had to learn all those things again. I had to learn how to sit up in bed, how to transfer to chairs, how to take steps. That moment was the lowest in my life.

I was in my second year in college at the time and it just put a spanner in the works for everything. As I’d spend so much time in a hospital environment, I’d always wanted to work as a nurse because I really appreciated everything that they’d done for me. I wanted to make a difference. It sounds really cliche but I wanted to give back.

After my surgery I realised I couldn’t do that. There was no way. I’d been at college studying things like sciences and health and social care. I wasn’t going to be able to do that anymore.

When I came out of hospital my sister was applying to university and I didn’t know what I was going to do or what options were available to me. At this point, I couldn’t get back into sport because I had to wait 12 months for the metal work in my spine to fuse to my bones. I decided that I was going to start the process again, go to a different college, do a different course and get the grades that I knew I could.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races an adapted wheelchair on a race track
Photo courtesy of Peter Milsom

The journey to wheelchair racing

After the metal work fused I started getting back in the gym and doing physical activity again. I was volunteering at an event that had Steve Brown, who is a GB wheelchair rugby player. We were talking to some of the kids and he said he used to train down in Worthing for wheelchair racing and suggested I check it out.

I did the 100m in 25 seconds and the coach who was there was like ‘okay that’s pretty good’. Three weeks later I was entered into the London Westminster Mile and I came second. It’s just gone on from there really.

I don’t just want to be a great athlete, I want to be someone that people can look up to and I want to encourage people to get into sport because it is really great!

I can’t imagine what I would be doing without sport. I just love life. Every opportunity is a good one. It’s another chance to show the world that there may be wheels there but there are some pretty good things alongside them.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races in an adapted wheelchair on a race track

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

 

Featured image courtesy of Peter Milsom Photography

He’s the Paralympic hopeful who’s taking the athletic world by storm – Souleyman

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Souleyman is a 16 year old runner. He’s visually impaired but that hasn’t held him back – it just means he needs to find a different way of doing things. He recently took part in the Junior Paralympics and won gold.

As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, he spoke to us about his love of running and competing, overcoming barriers and how he’s working towards the 2020 Paralympics.

Ever since I was young I really enjoyed competing. I always used to win races in primary school. I enjoyed sports day, I enjoyed all kinds of races at the park with my friends and it turned into a passion. In year 7 at high school my teacher said “you have a talent, you should join a club”. So I joined a club and started getting better.

The British Athletics Paralympics selected me to do the School Games, which is also known as the Junior Paralympics. This was in November last year and I won gold. I’ve competed for my club, Kingston, but to be at a major championship, it was a great experience. And Brazil itself was cool. The sun was out all day, it was warm, the people were amazing, and the vibe was so good.

I didn’t expect to be at that level so to actually come away being the world number one was a huge shock. I knew I was decent but I didn’t know I was that good. All my family and my friends were so buzzed, they were like “You’re going to be the next Usain Bolt”. Another door has opened, and it’s just a case of seeing where that can go.

Souleyman on the running track, smiling at the camera, hands on hips

Getting to the 2020 Paralympics

Competing at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo is my main goal. My coach and I sat down and made a plan of what we’re going to do, how we’re going to get there. Before then there are championships like the Europeans, Commonwealth and World Championships – all these other competitions that I can compete at.

Wherever you hear “Olympics” you also hear “Paralympics” so there’s been a huge shift. It’s being acknowledged in society and people are seeing that disabled people can do the same things that non-disabled people can do. They just need to do it in a different way.

Souleyman running on the track

Overcoming challenges and attitudes

The way my visual impairment works – I can’t see through one eye, and the other eye is tunnel vision, so I don’t see what’s around me in my peripheral vision. It makes it hard to stay in my lane and see who’s next to me and how fast I should be running. I can see straight ahead, which is good for the 100m. But you need to see who’s beside you to judge your pace. It is very difficult in all areas of life.

People’s attitudes are quite frustrating. For some reason they think because I have a visual impairment or a disability I’m not cognitively able to do things. I’m not stupid, I just can’t see! I’m a huge believer in whatever you can imagine for yourself, you can achieve it. It’s about finding what needs to be overcome. Especially with me, with my visual impairment, I’ve never thought there’s something I can’t do. I can do it, but I have to find an alternative way of doing it.

Souleyman laughing and pouring a bottle of water over his head

Inspiring others

In athletics I want to achieve as much as possible. Whether it’s winning gold, getting a world record or being a role model for other people. After I won at the School Games in Brazil, visually impaired people and disabled people contacted me and said “It’s amazing what you’ve achieved as a young disabled person and you’ve inspired me” which is something I never thought I’d hear. That just made me want to push harder.

Souleyman is sharing his story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read more from our #30toWatch on our website.