From a young age, sport has been front and centre of life for Richard Whitehead MBE, and has always been an outlet for Richard’s drive and determination. Here, Richard explains his journey from growing up in the 80s in Nottingham to winning Olympic Golds, to the present day, helping others to achieve more through the power of sport.
In the beginning
Born in 1976 in Nottingham, Richard was keen to try and enjoyed a variety of sports from a young age, despite being a double leg amputee. Growing up in the 80s when inclusivity wasn’t as high up the agenda as it is now, Richard found his love of sport which made him question what inclusivity means and gave him a platform to challenge societal norms.
In his early career, Richard worked in sports development in the UK and USA, as a PE teacher, as a swimming teacher, and was a part of the GB Sledge Hockey team at the 2006 winter Paralympics. It’s fair to say, Richard is programmed to compete.
And then there was Gold
Richard’s first serious run was in 2004: the New York City marathon, in aid of a close friend he lost to sarcoma. By 2010, he had set a new world record for lower limb amputees at the Chicago marathon, breaking the three-hour mark with a time of 2:42:52.
Back to 2005 and the Olympic committee announced that the 2012 games would be held in London. Seeing a once in a lifetime opportunity, Richard decided to try and get on the team, which of course he did and went on to make history. Hoping to compete in the marathon, at the time there wasn’t a category for double amputee marathon runners, so he swiftly made the decision to switch to track running and went on to win gold in the T42 200m. Then came the IPC World Championship Gold in the 200M (T42) in 2013, and the Anniversary Games London Gold in the 200M (T42) in 2013 again. It was a busy year with Richard also completing ‘Ran Britain’, a 977-mile-long run from John O’Groats to Lands End. Now with over twenty marathons, world titles, paralympic golds, and serious distance running achievements to his name, Richard had to set more goals.
The future playing field
Having ticked off his own dreams, Richard needed to consider what was next and how he could use his success to level the playing field for others. Sport was always a passion but so was making opportunities available to others. Richard enjoyed all the elements of sports management, from creating enrichment programmes, managing spectators, and dealing with the administration, and he felt strongly that social barriers could be broken down through sport and that he could reach and engage different minority groups and communities. He wanted to provide training to people with disabilities, provide running guides for the blind community, provide people with wheelchairs and prosthetics, and remove the barriers that prevent everyone from having a fair shot at achieving their goals.
So in 2021, Richard set up the Richard Whitehead Foundation. The foundation focusses on providing support, mentoring, equipment, and opportunities to primarily young people with disabilities who are facing physical and emotional challenges.
Having just seen the first cohort of beneficiaries graduate through the programme and go on to work abroad, begin sports competitions, and start university degrees, Richard feels like a proud father and is eager to help more young people.
“I want to build the foundation into a much bigger movement. I want to change the environment so that more people have access to technology and resources.
“I was lucky that I received Össur running blades back in 2004 so I was able to fulfil my running dreams. My ongoing partnership with Össur has given me the chance to influence the prosthetics sector, to work in future technology and work with practitioners who are leading their field. I have had an insight into what is possible, and I want that for everyone, because every child should matter.”