London 2012 brought Paralympic sports into the spotlight as David Weir finished one of Team GB’s most prolific winners with four gold medals.
Dreaming of representing GB at Rio 2016 is Kirsty Grange, Manchester’s very own wheelchair racer.
Kirsty turned 22 this year and races in the T54/T44 class, but her first sport of choice had been swimming, with the North West Disability Squad. There, at the age of 14, she met Stuart Bloor, who she will marry in 78 days.
Both Kirsty and Stuart were forced to quit swimming because of different injuries, but were eager to take up another sport.
“He found wheelchair racing, and although I wanted to get back into sport I was very hesitant towards racing at first!” Kirsty told MM.
“I had around a year of Stu’s first coach trying to get me into it and in the end I gave in.”
Once she had learned to control the chair, she was hooked. Her inspiration came from seeing Stuart fly along the track, and from Dame Sarah Storey.
Dame Sarah had coached Kirsty at the North West swimming squad, and had herself switched from swimming into another sport, in her case cycling.
“Knowing how her transition went gave me the final kick I needed to go for it in racing.”
Kirsty had a very busy 2013, with races across the UK and beyond. “My personal highlight was competing in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Half Marathon. It was my first ever competition abroad and most of team Weir Archer competed there; it was an amazing experience.”
The Weir Archer Academy was founded last year by Weir and his coach Jenny Archer, to create a tangible legacy from London 2012. Based in Surrey, it aims to provide world-class facilities for all levels of disabled athletes.
Kirsty said their support had been ‘amazing’, given she is 300 miles away from them, with regular phone calls to check on her progress and training days in Kingston to help her.
Closer to home, Kirsty has the backing of the Manchester Harriers, a local athletics club founded in 1886.
“They check possible wheelchair compatible races for me and check where I am with my training.”
Nonetheless, she is – as with many athletes – required to raise the funds for her racing. One was for the 2013 Great Manchester Run and another saw Kirsty, her fiancé Stuart and two more friends, Anthony Gotts and Daniel Bramall, take turns to push from Manchester to Blackpool, raising £700 between them.
The Great Manchester Run is Europe’s biggest 10k event, and has raised around £22 million for charitable causes since 2003. Kirsty said she usually uses it as a season opener, coming in fourth position last May.
“It’s fantastic to push through my home city and see the crowds supporting us and the runners, it gives me the drive to push faster!”
Another long fundraiser could be on the cards for this year, to pay back her friends and training partners for the work they put for her in 2013 on the road to Blackpool.
Her training for the 2014 season, though, has had to compete with the other goings on in her life.
“I had a chest infection at the beginning of the year, and have been planning a wedding, sorting family matters and trying to find myself a job so I’m actually just getting into the swing of it again!”
With all of these distractions, it would have been easy for Kirsty to lose track of her racing goals, but her passion and determination are undiminished.
“My dream obviously is to be at Rio, and I would love to see my fiancé there too, but right now I need to just focus on training hard and setting some new times.”
With her determination and hard-working attitude, and the support she has received, that dream could well be achieved.
Images courtesy of Kirsty Grange, with thanks.