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11th December 2020

Going for gold

Kayleigh Haggo is living proof of her maxim, ‘you can achieve anything you set your mind to’.

Fitting with this year’s World Cerebral Palsy Day theme, #CPMakeYourMark, 21-year-old Kayleigh is blazing a trail in the international para-sport of race running, while also striving to make sport inclusive to all, in her busy working life.

As a child with cerebral palsy, Kayleigh’s love affair with sport got off to a slow start. “I didn’t do much sport in school,” she tells This Is MedTech. “I wasn’t included in PE: I was just sat at the side to do the score sheet or blow a whistle.” But then Kayleigh attended a ‘come and try event’. “I got on one of the race running bikes and I didn’t want to get off again,” Kayleigh recalls. “That is where it all started.”

Kayleigh embraced the burgeoning sport. At the age of 12, she won three gold medals for Great Britain at the European Para Youth Games, before taking time out to focus on swimming. Returning to race running four years later, Kayleigh went on to win silver at the European Championships and gold at the World Para Athletics Championships. She has set 13 world records and four national age group records in swimming and club throw sports as well as race running.

Alongside her own training, Kayleigh is committed to changing perceptions about disability in sport and to helping others enter the world of sport. “I teach swimming at SwimStars, a swimming programme launched by former British Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington,” Kayleigh explains. “I also work for Scottish Disability Sport as an athlete tutor: I am in the process of training to deliver ‘disability in coaching’ courses, teaching others about disability inclusion within PE in secondary schools.”

Technology plays a big part of Kayleigh’s life, in the form of her innovative race runner – a three-wheeled frame that supports athletes with a saddle and body plate. “You see people who can’t walk get on a race runner and they can move by themselves. It’s amazing,” Kayleigh enthuses.

Other devices have also helped her gain the independence that she values so much. “An orthotic glove really helped with my spasms and the use of my hands,” says Kayleigh. A couple of years ago, she also started to use a power-assisted attachment device for her manual wheelchair, which includes a large front wheel and handlebars as well as electronic controls. “It allows me to go anywhere without relying on anyone to push me,” Kayleigh says. “That has really benefitted me, especially when I go abroad to competitions: I can go about by myself and it makes me more independent.”

“I don’t let my cerebral palsy gets in the way,” says Kayleigh. “Anyone can do anything they want to do within sport and everyday life. If you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything. Overcoming barriers and obstacles that are in the way will only make you stronger.”

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