Wellbeing & Fitness

Conquering the London Marathon in a wheelchair

History will be made this weekend when Andy Gardiner and four others become the first wheelchair users to take part in the main field of the London Marathon. New Disability Horizons writer, Simon Webb, catches up with Andy before the big day to find out a bit more about the incredible challenge that lies ahead.

When 35,000 people line up at the start of the London Marathon this weekend, each and everyone of them will do so alongside someone with their own special goal, challenge, reason to be inspired or story that can inspire others.

Amongst the 35,000 will be five participants taking part in a special trial arranged by marathon organisers who will become the first ever wheelchair users to set off with the main field of participants. One of the quintet includes Great Britain’s shooting team member and golfer, Andy Gardiner.

Five years ago, by his own admission, Andy Gardiner “struggled to get up the road”. The 35 year old from Bicester had a leg amputated following an accident in 2003, and it was only after this point that he turned to sport. He has gone on to be part of the Great Britain shooting team at the World Championships in Croatia and hole the winning putt in the 2011 Disabled British Open Golf Championship in front of the Sky TV cameras.

“But,” he concedes, “the crowd of a London Marathon beats the lot hands down.”

Andy will take to London’s streets in a standard day chair, and with a full year’s training behind him is raring to go… whilst being under no illusion as to the challenge ahead. He admits to feeling a “tad nervous”, but believes that he had worked hard and prepared well. He further comments that:

“I see this as a chance to push my body to its limit and test myself in a way that absolutely leaves no prisoners. A marathon has a way of stripping you down to a mere shell of a person as it is being completed, the feeling of a crowd driving you on, just knowing that the only way that the pain stops is to do one of two things, QUIT or Push Harder. Just making the decision to keep going when every fibre of my body is screaming for me to stop, thats the challenge I am looking forward to facing.”

One issue Andy and the race organisers have to consider, is how a wheelchair user will be able to negotiate the mass of humanity working its way around the streets of London. But that said, among those completing the distance in 2011 was a man running backwards, and another carrying a large model of a spitfire on his back, so a wheelchair must surely be viewed as just another method of getting from Blackheath to Buckingham Palace.

Andy, however, seems to have taken all of these into his stride and comments that:

“I recently completed the Silverstone half marathon. As I know London is going to be a lot more crowded, I was working on a system where I call out coming on right or left. 99.9% of the time the runners gave a quick look over the shoulder, move over and then cheered me on past them.”

As well as taking part in this marathon trial, which could lead to an experience of a lifetime being available to a wider pool of disabled people, Andy is also raising money for Leonard Cheshire Disability. The charity supports thousands of disabled people in the UK and in fifty countries around the world.

“My aim is to support the great things that Leonard Cheshire Disability do by raising £2000. Even if it only helps one person and makes someones life easier for just one day, all my pain, sweat and tears will have been worth it. I think that opening up the London marathon to more disabled people can only be a good thing. I refuse to believe that there are only four or five manual wheelchair users who want to do the London Marathon.”

By Simon Webb

We’ll be looking out for Andy on TV this Sunday and, if you wish to support Andy, visit www.justgiving.com/disabledgolfer. To find out how he gets on, follow him at www.twitter.com/golfandy.

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