Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson met with 12-year-old India Oates and Jacob Bray at Barnard Castle School in County Durham to give her support at the start of their journeys as athletes with disabilities. The Welsh athlete, who has won 16 Paralympic medals, broken 30 world records and won the London Marathon six times, gave her tips to athlete India and swimmer Jacob before they begin to compete in more high-profile competitions.
India Oates, who has cerebral palsy, was talent spotted by her prep school teacher, Sue Seddon, at the age of 10. Sue noticed India was hitting quicker sprint times than Paralympians in the spotlight and, with the school’s encouragement, India started to train with Darlington Harriers and the Barnard Castle School team four times a week. She is now going through the International Paralympic Committee classification process so she can compete in regional and national competitions.
Tanni Grey-Thompson said: “India and Jacob both have great attitudes at this stage. Jacob told me he didn’t just like swimming, but also likes high jump and other sports – it’s important when you’re young to try lots of different sports until you’ve found ‘the one’.
“Barnard Castle School encourages pupils to be the best they can, but also helps children to become all-rounders, developing different transferable skills. The sports facilities are fantastic here, but it’s the coaching that really matters.
“Mr Woodward works with India and Jacob on training smart, including stretching and posture positions, which prevents injury in the long run. Avoiding injury is so important to athletes at any stage in their career, so learning to look after yourself from a young age is a life skill.”
School swimming champion Jacob has a prosthetic hand and also met Tanni to ask her advice on how to get to the top in sport. He commented: “Miss Thompson has given me some help on how I can achieve my first goal, which is to become the fastest swimmer in my year group.
“She explained that the more effort you put in the more chance you have of winning and I’m trying my hardest all the time at the moment. I train four times a week in school. If I keep trying my hardest I hope I will become the best swimmer, which is my dream.”
Andy Woodward, strength and conditioning coach and head of athletics at Barnard Castle School, said: “It’s great that India and Jacob have had the chance to meet such an inspiring figure in international sport. Everyone needs heroes to inspire them after a difficult training day.”
India’s brother, 24-year-old Oliver Oates, an Old Barnardian and Darlington Harrier, is running the London Marathon at the end of April to fundraise for a charity called Brainwave which works with children with different conditions, including cerebral palsy.