THE amazing exploits of Eastbourne-born Paralympian Bethany Woodward promise to inspire a new generation of athletes.
Locals screamed at their television sets this week as they watched the 19-year-old sprinter claim a silver medal in the women’s 200m T37 final in front of a packed Olympic Stadium, having already secured a bronze in the relay on Tuesday.
Woodward, who has cerebral palsy, now lives and trains in Dorset but that has not stopped her hometown beaming with pride at her achievements.
And, according to one local athletics club, her success is already spurring on others to follow in her footsteps.
Maureen Bennett, who helps run Eastbourne Special Olympics (ESO), says the athletes who attend the group’s weekly sessions have been inspired by watching the Paralympics.
She said, “Our athletes are in a different position in they have learning difficulties rather than disabilities but they have all been watching the Paralympics and have certainly been inspired by it.
“Everyone here is so proud of what Bethany has achieved and it shows people what is possible.”
ESO attracts around 30 athletes each week and expects numbers to increase as locals embrace the positive message being broadcast by the Games.
Ages range from eight up to the late 40s and the club has 16 athletes already confirmed as taking part in next year’s national special Olympics meet in Bath where, Mrs Bennett says, they will be looking to mirror the success of people like Bethany and bring some silverware home to Eastbourne.
“Our athletes have definitely been enjoying watching the Paralympics,” she said, “everyone has been getting excited about it.
“One of our members was chosen to be a helper and loved it. Another won tickets to go and see it and he had an amazing time. I think the Games shows people what they can achieve.”
And it is not just athletes who have been bowled over by Bethany and co. Graeme Bye won the chance to go to London after being chosen by the Muscle Help Foundation, a charity which helps youngsters suffering from muscular dystrophy and similar conditions.
The 11-year-old has to use a walking frame because he has condition called Charcot Marie Tooth which affects his muscles, nerves and balance.
Nevertheless, he came home from London determined to dip his toe in the world of sport, alongside his busy routine of scouts and film-making.
His mum Jackie told the Herald, “He had such a brilliant time and was in awe. He is not the most sporty of boys but now wants to try wheelchair rugby.
“It was a big thing for kids with a disability to see disabled athletes competing for their country. Graeme was truly inspired.”
Swimmers from Sovereign Disabled Swimming Club also got to see the Games up close. A 25-strong group of members headed to the capital last week for a whole day of sports, catching sessions in wheelchair basketball, goalball and five-a-side football.
The trip was partly funded by the Sports Council and Sport England and organiser Amos Moran said, “The day was excellent and a brilliant time was had by all. The only downside of the day was that we had to leave.
“All our members agreed it was a once in a lifetime experience.”
r Anyone who would like to get involved with Easbourne Special Olympics either as an athlete or helper should call 01323 721014 or email email@example.com.
Sovereign Harbour Swimming Club can be contacted on 01323 484165 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.