Tully – My Story
My name is Tully, I’m 22 years old and I was born with Cerebral Palsy (Spastic Diplegia) and developed Generalised Dystonia in my teens which affects my whole body.
Where it all began
Growing up my Mum took me to swimming lessons but I never learnt how to swim. I was always too afraid until my Dad was posted to Canada with the armed forces where they had free family swimming every day and my Dad threw me in the pool and I started to swim! When I was about 6 years old I used to spend most nights at the local swimming pool with my Mum watching my brother do his swimming training. One night the coach asked if I wanted to join in and I completely fell in love with the sport. It was the first sport I’d tried that I could actually do and I was so happy that I could finally do something my brother did, as I always wanted to be able to do everything that he could. I started training with the local swimming club and gradually built up to full training. In 2011 at the age of 13 I was introduced to para swimming and was classified. At my first British Swimming Nationals I was noticed by the British Para Swimming talent team and selected for the World Class Podium Potential.
When I was 14 I was the first para swimmer to be awarded a scholarship to the Royal School in Wolverhampton as part of their elite swimming programme and became a weekly boarder. This is where I started training more seriously and in April of 2013 I qualified for my first major international meet – the 2013 IPC World Championships in Montreal. After this, I moved to a local school for sixth form and went back to my home club of Boldmere where in April of 2015 I qualified for my second World Championships in Glasgow. I then moved to Manchester to train at the National Performance Centre and start studying for my degree in Physiology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Two months before the 2015 World Championships I developed a shoulder injury caused by over training due to me having CP as my left side is not as strong so therefore more prone to injury. It was treated with steroid injections and I left the World Championships as Britain’s highest medal earner.
At the start of the next season I developed a sudden onset fixed Dystonic contracture in my left lower leg/foot. I was just learning to cope with this additional impairment when my the shoulder injury came back and then my Dystonia reacted to the injury meaning I developed fixed Dystonic contractures in both my shoulders which left me unable to swim and in a lot of pain. Due to this, I had to withdraw from the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games two weeks before it started which was devastating. I also developed further fixed Dystonic contractures in my right hip and knee and lost my position at the National Performance Centre and my funding. I had a year out of the pool focusing on my university work and coming to terms with my increased level of disability. During this time I started to look at the possibility of other sports but due to the weakness on my left side and limited range of movement in my shoulders I couldn’t find a sport that I could actually do or cope with the pain doing it brought. I decided in April of 2017 to try getting back into swimming. It was very scary at first as I didn’t know what my body could do now and if I would actually be able to swim. It took a long time and a lot of pushing through pain barriers and learning how to swim in a completely different way as I no longer had the use of my legs at all and had limited range of movement in my arms but eventually I got there. I started training with City of Manchester Further Education Squad, coached by Matt Walker – a retired para swimmer who was also an old teammate. In returned to competition in the summer of 2017 and became National Champion in two events.
In February of 2018 after constantly being bugged to try RaceRunning by my friend and fellow MMU sports scholar Hannah Dines who is a Para Cyclist and RaceRunner I attended a CP Sport RaceRunning taster day and absolutely loved it. I’d always wanted to be able to run growing up but never could so RaceRunning gave me the freedom to move around at my own pace unaided. Due to my Dystonia progressing I’d gone from being able to walk short distances to having to use a wheelchair all the time, so being able to get out of my chair and use my legs was such an amazing feeling. After a few months of trying to find somewhere in Manchester that I could go RaceRunning without any luck as I didn’t have my own frame I decided to give up trying and focused on swimming instead. In April of 2017 I was reclassified on the new classification system and came out as an S5. I qualified for two events for the 2018 European Championships in Dublin. I was delighted as I didn’t know if I’d ever be good enough to return to international competition. I came back from Europeans with a Gold in the 100m Freestyle and a Bronze in the 50m Freestyle. After Europeans I needed to take a few months out of the pool due to having surgery so I decided I would try out RaceRunning again for general fitness and to get my legs moving and help loosen them a bit. Hannah was brilliant and took me to the track she trains at where she keeps her RaceRunner and let me try it. She introduced me to my now coach Rick Hoskins from Stockport Harriers and lets me use her frame as many time as I like so I can train every week whilst I wait for my own RaceRunner to be built. Without Hannah I would have never tried this amazing sport and I would definitely not have been able to train every week. RaceRunning has massively helped my swimming as it kept my fitness levels ticking over whilst I was been out of the pool; it’s helped improve the power of my push offs and my feet positioning on the wall. Most importantly it’s enabled me to socialise with other disabled athletes from a different sport and make some great friends with people with the same conditions as myself. I’ve recently taken part in a CP Sport Athletic Series event at Stoke Mandeville which was my first ever athletics competition and I absolutely loved it. As I train with wheelchair racers, being around other RaceRunners and getting to see some of the athletes I first met back in February of 2018 on the taster day was a great experience and one I plan on repeating soon.
As I cannot train as much as I used to before 2016 so I’ve been filling up my spare time between swim and gym sessions at the track on the RaceRunner. I train anywhere between two and four times a week on the track depending on fatigue and where my swim training is at. It’s become apparent that the load of RaceRunning on my shoulders, although not a lot, is very beneficial to me in terms of remaining injury free. It helps keep the back of my shoulders that little bit stronger which helps protect me against injuries in the pool when my muscles start to fatigue.
At my first IPC World Championships in 2013 I came away with a bronze in the 400 m Freestyle. This was my first major international competition and was an amazing and overwhelming experience. It was definitely a great learning curve for me.
In 2015 I came away from the 2015 IPC World Championships with four Golds in 100 m Butterfly, 400 m Freestyle, 200 m Individual Medley and the 4 x 100 m Medley relay (I swam the Butterfly leg); a Silver in the 100 m Backstroke and a Bronze in the 4 x 100 m Freestyle relay. I was Britain’s highest medal earner for this event. This was totally overwhelming. I went into this competition ranked no1 in the world in my top three events, but you never know what can happen on the day so I never expected that I’d actually win all three and that we would win medals the relays.
In 2018 at the European Championships I won Gold in the 100 m Freestyle and Bronze in the 50 m Freestyle. There two medals mean the most to me because of all of the challenges I had to face and overcome just to get there. At this event, I had to go through classification review and was put a classification higher for the first five days of competition due to a mistake in my classification, before being moved back down to the S5 class. This meant I missed half of my races and was extremely stressful not knowing if it would be sorted by the end of the meet.
I have now been selected for the 2019 World Championships in London in September and cannot wait to return to this level of competition. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to see some of my para swimming friends from different nations so it will be a great experience especially as is it is a home championships.
The impact sport has had on my life
For me sport was everything growing up. It gave me an outlet to let out all of my frustrations related to my disability; it made me feel like I could achieve and helped me to feel like any other able bodied kid who didn’t have extra challenges to face in life. It was a good escape. Swimming taught me discipline, respect, how to overcome challenges and, most importantly, gave me confidence in my abilities. In the pool I was treated like any other kid. I didn’t need any help I could be completely independent and I loved the freedom that came with that. RaceRunning is a really good way for me to clear my head and has become an integral part of my swimming training as it helps keeps my legs as strong as possible and stretches them out.
My Ambitions in sport
I’ve now realised that having fun and enjoying training and racing is the key to being happy and is key to good performances. My one aim in sport now is to make it to a Paralympic Games. Winning medals would obviously be a massive bonus but through my rocky journey I’ve learnt that it really is the participation, enjoyment, and giving 100% that counts, not where you place.
My advice to others with cp who might want to try sport
Sport can have so many benefits to people with CP and other neurological conditions. It might take you a while to find the right sport for you and as you get older that sport may change, but don’t give up because I can tell you that when you find the right one it is so worth it!