Having been tricked into taking part in a Parkrun by his daughter, Gary Donald got the bug for wheelchair sport and is now helping others to take part at the London Wheelchair Triathlon Club.
“Having completed the parkrun in my day chair, I got hold of a race chair and joined a wheelchair racing club in south London,” Donald said.
“I stopped being part of the club after a little while because of the travel time to their sessions and, having bought a handcycle, decided at Christmas in 2016 that I wanted to complete a triathlon.”
Donald set about learning to swim to help him achieve his aim and, when able to compete in all three disciplines, then took part in the Paratri Festival, SuperSprint race at Dorney Lake.
“I struggled round the swim but thoroughly enjoyed it,” commented Donald. “After that I carried on with many sportives handcycling and completed dozens of half marathons, whilst increasing distances at triathlon to standard distance at Eton Dorney, TriLiverpool, Blenheim, Mallory Park Paratri Champs, Royal Windsor and SuperHero Tri.
“There was a small group of us who wanted to take part in triathlon more regularly, so we set up the club to help people try the three different disciplines and give it a go at putting them together.
“Being wheelchair people ourselves, we’re able to help each other with a complete understanding of what it’s like. We’re a mix of single discipline athletes and multidiscipline athletes and the mix really helps us all develop and pass on tips.”
The club has multiple weekly training sessions at the Olympic Park VeloPark, offering members the chance to take part in either a race chair or hand cycle.
“Due to the spread of people from Basingstoke to Lowestoft, we don’t often have swimming sessions together because people tend to go to their local pool,” Donald said. “However, we have been able to use the lake at TriFarm this year for some open water swimming because it has accessible entry, but also use West Reservoir Stoke Newington and London Fields Lido.
“We have members travelling from all over south east England to join us. There are opportunities for wheelchair athletes to join local clubs that aren’t dedicated to wheelchair triathlon, however, it can be more encouraging and supportive to be in a wheelchair specific club.
“Not all clubs organise runs that are entirely on hard surfaces which can be a challenge if you’re in a race chair and, because of the difference in speed, cycling as part of a group can he hard too, especially on the open road. Wheelchair athletes can learn far more quickly in a dedicated environment.”
British Triathlon clubs, coaches and events are supported to help them accommodate any additional requirements that disabled participants may have to help them be as accessible as possible.
“I’ve taken part in a variety of events alongside able-bodied participants around the country,” added Donald. “When I’m looking at events I check out the course to make sure the course isn’t on a trail or grass because that can be a major challenge, before asking the race directors if it is accessible and feasible for wheelchair athletes.
“Event organisers are supportive in helping us with taking part at the events where the course works, so it’s great to have a range of events to race at even if they’re not wholly dedicated to wheelchair participants.”
The majority of the participants that the club attracts come from a single discipline background, with Donald and the other members helping each other to get involved in the other disciplines of multisport.
The club have been back to training for a couple of months, running sessions where members can take part in either a handcycle or a race chair.
You can find out more about the club on Facebook and their website below, as well as information about paratriathlon on the British Triathlon website.