Beth is 15 years old and from Sittingbourne in Kent. She has been using a wheelchair for 10 months and has suspected Elhers Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects her tissue and joints and can cause frequent dislocations. As a sporty child Beth loved swimming, dancing and rugby but as her condition progressed she had to stop taking part in some of these activities. Coming to the WheelPower 2022 National Junior Games opened her eyes to disability sport and she’s now really excited for what the future may bring.

This is Beth’s Story …

Beth playing tennis

“I started to swim at just 6 months, and when I got to 5 I joined my local swimming club. Rugby was okay until I got to about 9 years old, but when it moved to contact I had to give it up. I also used to dance as well but I found the shoes were becoming an issue so I had to stop that as well when I was 11. I couldn’t manage it any longer and wasn’t able to stay upright for long enough.”

“The one thing I did manage to keep up was swimming and I now swim competitively, both locally and at county level. It’s a big part of my life and also where I made lots of friends. I would love to progress with swimming in the future but we will have to see.”

Beth’s mum Eleanor continues … “The club is really good and if she needs to sit out she can do so. Beth also has got her own way of getting up on the blocks, sitting on it and moving around before the whistle goes. The club were looking at getting a classification for her but the condition isn’t currently recognised. There’s only a few strokes she can concentrate on because of her hips but she loves swimming.”

Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

As Beth got older the family were noticing she was having more problems with her joints, and although she was able to walk short distances around the home, to the corner shop and at school it was becoming necessary for her to use mobility aids such as crutches, before she first tried a wheelchair.

Eleanor explains more, “Beth would come home from school in tears, and couldn’t do anything and didn’t want to move. It was a difficult time but once she was given a wheelchair to use things started to improve. Unfortunately the NHS wheelchair was too heavy to move around, so not long after and with the help of her grandparents we were able to get a power assisted wheelchair. It’s been the making of her and she can now meet up with friends, go into town and get to school and back without my help.”

“From the beginning using a wheelchair felt more like me, and it was fantastic to be able to get around by myself. It helped me find ‘me’ again, and I could go out, make plans and get to school on my own. It gave me my freedom back and it’s just been amazing.”

Swimmer in action doing breaststroke

National Junior Games 2022

After finding out the event through Whizz Kidz Beth was really excited to come along to Stoke Mandeville and try a wide variety of wheelchair sports that she’d never had the opportunity to try before. Unfortunately Mum couldn’t come along this time but with Nana on board they were both over the moon, to be able to spend quality time together and discover all these amazing new things.”

“I was really excited on the first day but a bit nervous about meeting new people and seeing others in wheelchairs, as I don’t know anyone in a wheelchair. I was looking forward to trying everything and it was great to think that I could join in with all that was available. It was set up for people to use a chair and the coaches didn’t need to find ways to adapt it like when I’m at school.”

On the day one of the Games Beth headed over to the Stadium from her nearby room and signed in! She recalls what happened; “The first thing I did was hold the Paralympic torches before we had a look at the medals in the heritage museum. Everyone then started arriving and I couldn’t wait to get started. Everyone was so friendly, saying hello to you and not giving you weird looks. As we moved into the hall the first sport I noticed was table tennis so got playing straight away!”

Beth playing wheelchair rugby

“Before coming to this event I hadn’t done any wheelchair sports before and I think over the week I tried everything except for shotput, discuss and powerchair football. My favourites were rugby, cricket and basketball. I enjoyed the sports that were more fast paced and not as technical. You just get there and go! It was easy for everyone to understand the rules and I really liked the team spirit and integration of basketball and rugby especially.”

“It felt really good to playing with other people like me. I didn’t need to make any adjustments to join in, and it was great not have to worry, to just join in and be on the same level together. I made lots of friends, met so many new people that I’m still in contact with to this day.”

As well as trying all of the 15 sports on offer Beth also got to use a sports wheelchair for the first time. “I didn’t realise how fast they went because they’re really light and so much fun. As well as the sports chairs I also learnt how to do wheelies in my day chair. Turning, going in and out of cones, and getting under tables. It was all new to me.”

Beth throwing a ball at the National Junior games

The Future

After returning home Beth was buzzing from her experience and keen to continue playing some of the sports she had tried at Stoke Mandeville. Soon after she started training with the Canterbury Hellfire Wheelchair Rugby club and is hoping to get involved in other sports clubs soon (time allowing!)

In February 2023 Beth travelled back to Stoke Mandeville Stadium alongside her new Canterbury Hellfire teammates, which included former GB Paralympian and friend of WheelPower Steve Brown. A fantastic experience for Beth and so lovely to see her back on court.

Beth with her team

“I’d love to do more sports but it’s finding the time to do that, and fitting it in! I would love to find a local badminton club and maybe table tennis but we haven’t found any in our area yet. I still swim 8/9 hours a week so I don’t have much time left to do other sports! But I will try.”

“Not long after coming to the Games I had toe surgery which meant I couldn’t swim for 5 weeks which was really hard. Thankfully I got some resistance bands from WheelPower at the event to help keep my strength up, and also work off some of the anger from not being able to go into the pool!”

Final Words

From Mum Eleanor …

“Her confidence has really shot up from having her new wheelchair and now going to the WheelPower National Junior Games. She was feeling a bit low before all this, but now knowing that she can do so much, play sport, she can still join in and do all these things. The fact she’s now going out with friends and meeting everyone similar to her at the games, it’s really boosted her confidence and it’s great to see.”

“At school they often will do PE on a field so Beth can’t join in. She will either be asked to be the referee or go to the library instead. But in recent times she’s started to join in more and played rounders the other week. Because there isn’t any adaptions she wouldn’t normally have joined in but now feeling more confident she thought this time she’d give it a go and she really enjoyed it.”

“The WheelPower event really has made her think ‘I can do this’ and ‘I will join in and ‘I don’t care what you think at school because I’m going to at least try’.”

From Beth …

“The National Junior Games were the best! I would recommend it and we already have! I am hoping to come back next year if Nana can take me again and it doesn’t fall to close to my exams (fingers crossed) Thank you WheelPower, it truly was the best week of my life.”

Beth at her team mates collecting awards