This weekend a new generation of disabled athletes will begin their road to success and follow the many sporting heroes from last summer’s Games. More than 250 young athletes will compete at the National Junior Athletics Championships on 13 and 14 July. It is delivered by Disability Sport Events, an English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) programme, and held at UCLAN Sports Arena in Preston.
For over 25 years, the event has provided thousands of young disabled athletes with the opportunity to develop their talent and compete against others from across the country. They compete in a full track and field programme, which ensures there are disabled competitors with a wide range of impairments taking part. Many elite disabled athletes began their golden careers at this event. Paralympians Hannah Cockroft, Shelly Woods, Aled Davies and Hollie Arnold used the event as part of their development in to world class athletes.
Golden girl Hannah Cockroft shot to fame at the London 2012 Paralympics after winning two gold medals. Now 20, she competes in the T34 classification and holds the Paralympic and world records for the 100m and 200m. She remembers these Championships fondly:
“The National Junior Athletics events were my first stepping stones to success at the London 2012 Paralympic games. They were my introduction to a competitive world and first taste of gold and glory. To the junior athletes competing- be the best that you can be, accept the challenge, remember to have fun and good luck!”
Her team mate, Hollie Arnold, recalls her time as a junior too. At 19, the Paralympic athlete is on her athletics journey to Rio 2016, after already competing in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. She is currently the Junior World Record Holder for both javelin and discus. Hollie said:
“I was spotted at this event as a very young athlete. It’s an amazing event- a lot of fun to try out different sports and see which one you love the best if not more! I did and mine is javelin. Just from being spotted at this event, I have now competed at two Paralympic Games and hope to continue for many more years.”
A competitor this weekend hoping to follow their success is rising star Sammi Kinghorn, from Scotland, who returns for her second time at the event. Although only 17 and racing for nearly two years, the Red Star Athletics Club wheelchair racer is already a member of the GB Talent Squad and the Scottish Commonwealth Games Squad. Ranked in the world top 10 as a senior T53 athlete, number two in Europe, she is number one in Britain for all T53 distances and is Scottish record holder for 100m through to 10k.
After the weekend is over, Sammi’s next big competition will be the Swiss Junior Championships in August. Earlier this year, she competed in the IPC meeting in Dubai, where she finished third over 100m and 200m in a T53/54 field, as well as in Switzerland at their championships in May. In April, Sammi finished second in the London Mini Marathon and was awarded the prestigious Young Scot Sports Award the same weekend.
The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 will be a great opportunity for Sammi to compete on home soil in a packed arena and shown on television. She also hopes to claim medals at either next year’s World Junior Championships or European Championships.
Stephanie Moore is also hoping for a successful weekend. Competing in the T20 classification for athletes with a learning disability, this year she won silver in the 4x100m relay at the British Colleges Championships and bronze in both 100m and 4x400m relay at the INAS World Championships. She is the Mencap U20 Champion in the 100m and 200m.
As well as medals for the top three in each event, the Graham Bool Memorial Trophy is awarded to the region that accumulates the most points through individual performances. For the last two years, South West region have taken the trophy home and they are eager to hang on to their title.
Chris Ratcliffe, Development Director for EFDS, said ahead of the Championships:
“We noted during the London 2012 Paralympic Games that more than a quarter of the athletes in the ParalympicsGB team had taken part in one of the various DSE championships at some point in their careers. The hard work does not end there. We want to build on the momentum of the Games and ensure disabled people have a chance to be active- at whatever level they choose to. EFDS launched our long term strategic plan this week, so this event really is a great opportunity to encourage young disabled people to be active for life.”
The Disability Sport Events programme increases opportunities through a wide range of participation events. Whether a local festival or international championships, all the events enable disabled people to enjoy a memorable sporting experience. The programme relies on money raised through corporate, trust and individual giving and the National Junior Athletics Championships is just one of the many opportunities available for sponsorship.
Lions Club International have been involved with the event since it began. Their support through fundraising and volunteers has assisted the national event and regional events across England. Ian Clare, MOD Lions Liaison Office said:
“We are proud to continue our long association with this event. The Lions have a commitment to supporting disability sport through our work with EFDS and with Special Olympics GB. Having supported the regional events this year, we look forward to seeing those who qualified at Preston to test their ability against their peers”.
The National Junior Athletics Championships will be held at:
UCLan Sports Arena, Tom Benson Way, Preston, Lancashire PR2 1SG
It is free for spectators and runs as follows:
09:45 and 17:30 on Saturday 13 July
09:30 and 14:00 on Sunday 14 July
EFDS would like to thank the Lions Club International, UCLan Sports Arena and Gerflor for their contributions to supporting this event. You can follow the event on Twitter #juniorathletics13
For more information, visit www.efds.co.uk