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OUT TO HELP YOUNG RACERS
With a new generation of budding athletes
being inspired by sporting heroes such as Jason Richards, the
question the international wheelchair-racer is most often asked
by youngsters is: "How can I get a cool car that can also
carry a racing wheelchair?"
As a Ford MAGIC* ambassador, Jason is well-equipped
to dispense sound advice on driving and disability, but this is a
tough one. His own car is a hand-controlled Ford Mondeo Ghia X
TDCi auto estate that takes awkward loads in its stride. "Racing
wheelchairs are big pieces of kit, but I recently drove to the
airport and managed to get in two racing chairs and two day
chairs as well as a fellow GB athlete. The Mondeo's carrying
capacity is tremendous, which is what I love about it.
"The kids may be fairly new to
wheelchair-racing and probably want to drive a car that's sporty
and small, but you just cannot combine that with a racing
wheelchair. They tend to say: Oh, if you have a silver
chair, I'd like a silver chair' or You drive a Mondeo, so
perhaps I can get a Mondeo!' That's fine, but a Focus estate is
another good option."
Jason is spending even more time working
with young people since becoming head of a new charitable body,
the Grace Foundation, in May. "A lot of youngsters are
wanting to get into wheelchair-racing, but racing chairs start at
around £1,700 and that's a heck of a lot of money. It's not like
buying a kid a pair of spikes to see if he or she takes to
running, and because wheelchair-racing is a lot harder than it
looks, it's not for everyone.
"So the Grace Foundation is proposing
to make a fleet of racing wheelchairs available for loan to
whoever wants to try them."
The foundation aims to inject money into
sport at grassroots level, to help tackle childhood obesity but
with an eye very much on 2012. "By the time we get to the
Paralympics in London , we want to have the strongest wheelchair-racing
team possible," says Jason. "Anyone out there with the
potential should be given the opportunity to make it."
Jason Richards has just completed what he
considers to be his own best wheelchair-racing season yet,
climaxing in the inaugural Middlesborough 10km race in early
October. He won by inches after a thrilling tussle with rival
Jason Gill, in a personal best time of just 24min 18sec.
"I started the season in March in the
North-east by winning the Redcar 10-mile road race, so to win the
last race just down the road was a great end to what's been my
best season by a long shot," says Jason.
Along the way he recorded a personal best
time in the London Marathon, wins in the BWRA National Track
Championships 200m and 800m races, and personal bests in the
Dixie Games in the USA in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m (also a
British best) and 1500m events.He also finished 8th in the heats
of the 1500m at the Open European Championships in Helsinki.
"My health has been consistently good,
and I got a new coach, Peter Eriksson, who has had a big impact
on the way things have gone." And though the Grace
Foundation is based in Doncaster , 50 miles from his home in
Harrogate , Jason finds that working there three days a week
allows him more time for training than he ever had in the past
while working as a chartered engineer.
"It was a big departure, but it gives
me far more flexibility," he says. "Now I can be very
positive about what I'm doing, rather than feeling that my sport
is getting in the way of work. And my work as a Ford MAGIC
ambassador ties in with every part of my life. I cover up to 25,000
miles a year travelling to work and to competitions all over the
UK in the Mondeo, and people are always wanting to ask about the
car and about motability issues."
Now Jason's challenge is to peak early
against tough competition in 2006 and qualify for the World
Championships in the Netherlands . That means a punishing
training regime through the winter, covering up to 100 miles a
week in his chair.
Jason was paralysed from the chest down in
1996, when he was 25, after damaging his spinal cord in a
motorcycle accident. But within a year he had won a bronze medal
for javelin and the Best Newcomer Award at the British National
Wheelchair Championships, and hasn't looked back. By 2002 he was
British champion in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m wheelchair-racing
And now Jason Richards' triumphal 2005
season is being crowned by a special Disabled Performer Award
conferred by Harrogate District Sports Council. "I'm really
flattered to have won something like this in my local town - as
an international athlete, it means a great deal to me."