Tag Archives: racing

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

A doctor said that he’d never walk, now he’s a professional racing driver – Nic Hamilton

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.


Nic Hamilton is a racing driver by profession and is currently competing in the British Touring Car Championship. He was born with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and has caused a stir in the racing world as one of the few disabled racers on the track. He is now setting up XeedX, a website he hopes will inspire and motivate people from all walks of life.

As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, Nic talks about getting into racing, setting up XeedX and how he has exceeded expectations throughout his life.

I always wanted to do racing. My brother Lewis had started to race when he was eight years old and we were following him and supporting him throughout his career. I was at every race, every weekend and it’s something that I always wanted to do but didn’t think it was possible due to my condition.

I had a little go in a car park when I was seven. It didn’t go too well. I ended up crashing into a kerb and down a ditch! My legs weren’t strong enough to operate the pedals. It was pretty much a no go for me at that point. It wasn’t looking good for me as that’s normally the time when you’d start your career in motorsport. It wasn’t until I was around 17 or 18 that we thought it might be possible.

Making adjustments

Cerebral palsy isn’t really built for doing all the strength you need to drive a car. I don’t think people realise how physical it is and how fit you have to be. I’ve had to really build up my strength, do my stretches and have a lot of physio.

I’ve had to adapt the car but I try and keep it as standard as possible. I still have pedals but I do have a hand clutch on the steering wheel so I have two pedals instead of three. The pedals are a little wider than standard so I have a bigger area to put my feet when I’m accelerating or braking.

To start with, it was very difficult. The first task was to obtain my race licence. Normally, for non-disabled people, it would take around two weeks. You just need to prove that you can drive a car at high speeds.

I passed the test first time, no problems. However, the governing body for motor sport had a lot of questions to ask in terms of my condition. It was quite difficult because they were really coming down hard on me and wanting every single little detail. It ended up taking me four months to get it and then every time I renewed it, it was always an issue.

However, since they’ve seen that I’m beating non-disabled people and that I’m making quite a name for myself, it hasn’t been an issue. Originally it was tough, but now it feels like I’m treated as an equal. I’m just trying to do the best job I can, be the best I can be and see where my career takes me.

Setting up XeedX

I basically thought XeedX up in my bedroom. I wanted to see if there was a way to use what I’m about and use the opportunities I’ve been given to give something back to other people.

I wanted to try and start a movement of people exceeding opportunities in their own way and wanted to put everyone on the same level. As much as everyone has a role model to look up to, people need to realise that they are most likely a role model to someone else also. I want to start moving out of the limelight and focus on people who deserve it more. It will be a way to motivate and inspire people.

My whole thing is being told I’d never walk to then going on to racing a race car. I managed to exceed all expectations of what everyone had of me and what I had of myself.

Throughout life, you’re always exceeding expectations. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, it could just be getting up and running to the shop or doing something you’d never normally do or something that you didn’t think was possible. I want people to start showing us what they’re doing.

The whole point of XeedX is to help people be proud of who they are and to make them realise that they are as important to society and the world as anybody else. If you put your mind to it, you can really push your limits and exceed expectations in any way that you can.

Nic, a young disabled man, is dressed in a smart suit and stands by a podium speaking to an audience.

Nic is sharing his story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. This is where we are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.

Visit the XeedX website to find out more and how you can get involved.