Competitive by nature and super active Melanie Woods worked as a P.E. Teacher in Glasgow prior to her accident. She enjoys all sports, played football at the weekends and was someone you’d find regularly outdoors, walking the dog or going to the gym.
In January 2018, at the age of 24 Melanie was involved in a cycling accident near to Inverness. As she explains further, “Whilst cycling on a country road, I was hit by a car that failed to see me. The collision resulted in a number of injuries but the most significant was the trauma to my spinal cord resulting in paralysis from the waist down.”
Melanie spent the next seven months in hospital, working through rehabilitation and learning how to live life as a wheelchair user. As early as weeks after grasping the reality of her injuries, she began watching adaptive sports in hospital and became excited about all of the new opportunities that she could get involved in.
“I was just not ready to go back to work and I couldn’t imagine not remaining active, so I became really passionate about regaining that part of my life, albeit in a different way”, says Melanie, “So on leaving hospital I played tennis, I joined a local athletics club and I even travelled to Colorado to learn how to sit ski!”
Getting back into sport after her injury was incredibly important to Melanie and when the Inter Spinal Unit Games 2019 was mentioned to her she couldn’t wait to go. “When I was in hospital I unfortunately missed the 2018 event due to me having bed rest so I was really happy to take part in 2019 and tried everything that was on offer! I enjoyed swimming, the archery and taking part in the wheelchair rugby! I think because it came a little while after I’d left hospital I might have been a bit too competitive at times!”
“An event like the Inter-Spinal Unit Games was just perfect”, explains Melanie, who admits that the opportunity has allowed her to discover new adaptive sports that she never knew existed beforehand. “WheelPower make it so easy to just adapt and fit in. All the ‘Have a go’ sports activities have the necessary equipment all provided and ready to use, so there’s no need to worry about bringing your own”
“My experience with Wheelpower was so positive – getting involved in sport has given me the focus that I’ve needed to get myself back on track after the accident, and I can’t think of anywhere else that could do this for me’, comments Melanie. “A spinal injury can leave you feeling quite isolated, so being given the opportunity to meet new people with similar challenges as me has been liberating, and I honestly don’t know where I’d be without the support that WheelPower has given me”.
Despite Melanie’s love of tennis and swimming it was wheelchair racing that she chose to dedicate most of her time to in 2019. As she explains, “I knew instantly it was the sport for me. I was able to train on my own accord; I felt independence and I was able to put in the hours that suited me.”
Melanie had discovered a real talent for the sport and is now training full time with a coach at the Red Star Athletics Club in Glasgow, alongside World Champion Wheelchair Racer Sammi Kinghorn. “It is very inspiring to have someone like her within my team and is something to measure myself against.” With the support and guidance of her wider team Melanie now trains twice a day and 6 times a week, and also has some rollers at home so she can train indoors to!
In June 2019 she purchased a new racing chair and went on to compete in the UK Wheelchair Racing season which saw her race against the best in the country. “I competed in the season last year and it went very well. I was top 3 in my classification and I had a few first places to.” During the season she realised that the old metal spoked wheels were not helping her performance so later that year she applied to the Wheelwrights Fund to help her to purchase some much lighter and more rigid carbon fibre wheels.
In November 2019 WheelPower were able to make a donation of £1,650 from the Wheelwrights 2020 Fund, which was topped up with £450 from the Wernick Group to enable Melanie to purchase the new carbon wheels for her racing wheelchair.
As Melanie says, “They are a lot faster when rolling because they are more rigid. They don’t flex like my old wheels and this helps me to generate more power when hitting the push-rims. They really have made a huge difference and I’m very excited to continue my development with the addition of my new wheels.”
Unfortunately due to Covid-19 the 2020 Wheelchair Racing season has been postponed. Despite this Melanie is continuing to train as hard as she can and looks forward to a return the track very soon.
“After training with a coach I had been hoping this season would be a good measure to where I am at and where I can go in the future. I had also planned to do a half marathon which also unfortunately has been cancelled to.”
Since taking up wheelchair racing Melanie has competed at various distances from 100m all the way up to 10k but she says it’s the longer distances that suit her most and maybe even road races that she decides to do in the long term. Now she just can’t wait to show what the hard work and resilience can achieve, as more opportunities to travel the world through sport and compete in a wider selection of Wheelchair Racing events open up to her.
As she concludes, “My focus has since been to rebuild life through my passion for sport. I am using wheelchair racing and training to gain back independence, fitness and I now have a bigger drive to succeed than ever before.”
September 2020 Update:
The Covid-10 pandemic unfortunately meant that facilities were closed and most wheelchair racing events cancelled. Many athletes such as Melanie saw their training programmes altered to adapt to the changes, with more home training now the norm whilst restrictions remained in place.
Despite this a couple of events did happen in the month of September which allowed Melanie the opportunity to compete for the first and last time in 2020.
On the 4th of September Melanie appeared live on BBC2 in the British Athletics Championships held in Manchester. In the very first wheelchair race at the British Athletics Championships Melanie finished 3rd behind Paralympic legend Hannah Cockcroft and her double World Champion training partner Sammi Kinghorn, in the 400m. Relive the race HERE.
The following week we were delighted to see the return of the wheelchair racing back at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, as Melanie joined the best British Athletes from across the country at the one day British Wheelchair Athletics Associations (BWAA) Grand Prix. Melanie had a fantastic meet, competing against Hannah Cockcroft, Kare Adenegan and Sammi Kinghorn on the track as she smashed many of her PB's. Well done Melanie and we looked forward to seeing you back on the track again in 2021.
“It’s been great to be back at Stoke Mandeville Stadium. I hadn’t realised how fast the track was! I really appreciate the support from WheelPower to fund my new wheels and it's great you are able to see them in action today. This meet will be the last of a very strange year but I’m now looking ahead to winter training, and in 2021 hopefully competing on the European circuit. My time in the 800m really was a great way to end the season!”
Follow Melanie's Journey on her website www.melaniewoods.org and give her a follow on social media.
The Wheelwrights Fund is open to anyone who has acquired a spinal cord injury within the past five years. You are able to apply for any money for any equipment or activities to help you stay active, get active, or help you achieve your sporting potential. The funding has been made available through the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights, in association with National Tyre Distributors Association. Find out more: The Wheelwrights Fund 2020