Ella Bouvard first took up triathlon in May 2021 having previously been a horse rider, with lockdown providing her the time to focus on getting fit and exploring swim, bike, run.
Bouvard initially reached out to Gary Cooper, coach at London Wheelchair Triathlon Club, for support with getting into handcycling and, from there, she has explored the other two disciplines of triathlon.
“I thought that [handcycling] looks like a fun thing to do and he just got me into everything,” Bouvard said. “We did a couple of swim coach sessions and then he sent me over to my race chair coach and kicked it all off.
“Having horses, that was something that you can’t just do for an hour a week, it is all day every day. Triathlon is kind of the only sport that is comparable to that. I did also go to the Superhero tri to watch my friend there a couple of years a go and I was like ‘that looks like fun’, as a fun thing to do and never got round to it.
“When I got in contact with Gary, I wanted to see if that was something I wanted to do and as soon as I started doing everything, I loved it. It took me a while to work out how to swim well, but once I got it and once I got a wetsuit and went open water swimming, I was like ‘this is amazing’. It’s really freeing and I love swimming.”
London Wheelchair Triathlon Club is a swim, bike, run club that is tailored specifically for wheelchair users to give opportunities to take part in and be coached in using handcycles, wheelchairs and swimming.
“Gary’s amazing, he’s just so good, so smart. I was never sporty so I don’t know about bike repairs. His car is just like a moving garage,” commented Bouvard.
“His ethos is very much there’s no point in doing it if you’re not having fun. He’s like, spend a year finding your feet and do events that you find fun. Have a good time with doing it and you get better through doing that.
“It’s really useful, for one, I’ve made so many friends and everyone gets it. You can talk to each other about things that aren’t necessarily sport related. You might say, need a hand with something in your daily life and everyone knows where you’re coming from.
“You see each other out at events and it is a small community, so I’ve got paratri friends up and down the country and it’s a ‘everyone knows everyone’ sort of thing.”
Since picking up the three disciplines, Bouvard has participated in handcycling road races, duathlons and completed her first triathlon at Dorney Lake.
“I was really happy with that because I went sub-two hours which was my main goal,” Bouvard added. “Then I was a little bit sad because it was the end of the season and I wanted to go again. I can’t wait until next year.
“It wasn’t a specific para event, which I was a little bit worried about because you don’t have the assistance out of the water and the transitions aren’t as straight forward, but everyone was really helpful.
“The atmosphere was amazing and everyone was really friendly. Obviously, everyone’s doing their own thing, but when you’re on a bit of specialist equipment people are more likely to have a chat to you on the way round on the bike.
“On the day I found the race director and had a good chat with him. I know a lot of events are like ‘are we doing the right thing’ so I like to give them a bit of feedback. They were really good.”
With 2021 almost over, eyes are turning to 2022 and, like triathletes around Britain, Bouvard has started making her plans for what next year will bring.
“I’d really like to do the Para Series and I’m looking at doing Leeds,” she concluded. “We’re also looking at doing a team at the 255. Within the club we’re not sure if we’ve got enough but we might be doing a boys versus girls, so that would be good fun.
“London Wheelchair Triathlon Club, we’re always happy to have people come and have a go on the bikes, because it’s not something a lot of people have access to necessarily, but yeah, just give it a go. From doing the sport, my day-to-day life is so much better. My core is stronger, my arms are stronger, so it helps everything.”
Photo credit: Charles Whitton Photography