First Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair Event Staged

Seven selected people will take on The Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair event, an innovative event that aims to encourage participation in disability sports.

It is the first event of its kind and takes place on Saturday 21 October on a packed weekend of sport in Portsmouth, the day before the Simplyhealth Great South Run which 20,000 people take part in every year.

The participants are being trained to use a racing wheelchair to take on a mile-long course, which starts and finishes on Clarence Esplanade in Southsea.

They are being trained by Paralympic coach Rick Hoskins and Portsmouth Athletics Club in preparation for the event and will set off in between the Simplyhealth Great South 5k and the Simplyhealth Junior and Mini Great South Run.

It follows the successful launch of The Simplyhealth Great North Wheelchair Event, which took place on the same weekend as this year's Simplyhealth Great North Run.

Find out more about the seven participants' stories below:

Alexandra Newton, from Portsmouth

16-year old Alexandra Newton, from Portsmouth, has Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy which affects all four of her limbs.

Alexandra has no experience of using a racing wheelchair and she hopes that there will be more chances for people with disabilities to take part in sport.

She said: “I think it is hard for disabled people to do any kind of sport, particularly if it's a physical disability. I believe sport really helps mentally and I feel elated when I train.

“This could be something for any disabled person to experience. I can't emphasise enough how it has given me confidence.”

Gus McKechnie, from Southampton

Gus McKechnie, 42, was born with Cerebral Palsy, but his competitive spirit has enabled him to battle back against his disability. He has set two world records on the rowing machine and has completed 11 marathons and trekked round Mont Blanc.

Gus said: “I'm really excited because the Simplyhealth Great South Run is an iconic event. I've grown up on the South coast where I used to live with my mum in Dorchester during the week and Hayling Island and Portsmouth on the weekends.

“I really want I'm also very lucky to be a Get Outside champion for Ordnance Survey and I hope this encourages more people to be active.”

Laura Curwood, from the Isle of Wight

Laura Curwood, 22, is a complete paraplegic, having become paralysed following an extreme reaction to a travel vaccination.

A member of Wight Tri, the Isle of Wight Triathlon Club, Laura is determined that people see beyond her disability and enjoys taking on physical challenges.

She said: “There is nothing I won't try, absolutely nothing. In my four years of paralysis I have done more than I would have if I could walk! “I'm hoping that The Simplyhealth Great South Wheelchair Event will help dissolve the illusion that people with a disability cannot take part in physical activity – nobody is exempt from taking part."

Natasha Settelen, from Twickenham

Natasha Settelen, 18, has Cerebral Palsy, which mainly affects her legs. She is determined not to let this hold her back from a healthy, active lifestyle.

Natasha trains at the Weir Archer Academy in Kingston and hopes to see increasing numbers of people participating in disability sports.

She said: “I'd tried wheelchair racing for only a few minutes before being entered in the London Youth Games, where I won a gold medal in the 100m.

“It's only this year though that I've been able to build up my fitness and belief and now I'm ready to give it a good shot as my main sport. “Most school sports aren't suitable for disabled children. Not all sports teachers are creative enough in thinking about ways of including disabled children in the rest of the class.

“It is getting better now, as there are more open days for young disabled children to try out various sports and have a taster session.”

Sam Walkington, from Kingston-upon-Thames

10-year-old Sam Walkington has Cerebral Palsy and finds it difficult to walk far and it affects his balance.

Sam hopes that there are always chances for children who are disabled to take part in a sport if they want to and is focusing on a personal goal of his own ahead of the event.

He said: “It's really hard to take part in sports at school when you have a disability like me.

“If you look around there are places out there and all disabled kids should have the chance to take part in a sport if they want to.

"I'm hoping to improve my fitness with my training and learn to handle the chair better. I'm also hoping for my very first Personal Best over a mile!”

Xander Foster, from West Drayton

Nine-year-old Xander Foster was born with a broken back and deformities to the lower limbs.

Despite this, he is a figure of inspiration to others and having joined the Weir Archer Academy last year he's determined to keep improving.

He said: “I'm desperate to compete – this will be my first proper race and I just want to get faster and carry on improving my technique.”

Xander's mother, Lisa, added: “There's very little available to children of his age. One of the mums at the academy mentioned it and now Xander can't wait to take part!”