Kate Kelly from Calverstown is an extraordinary young woman. Despite being born with Cerebral Palsy, which makes the things most people take for granted much more challenging Kate has achieved extraordinary success as an athlete and qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics is well within her sights. Kildare Nationalist reporter Noel O’Driscoll spoke to Kate about her love of sport and she is competing at the highest level.
Ninteen-year-old Kate is a Leaving Certificate student at Cross and Passion in Kilcullen. She lives in Calverstown with her mother Geraldine and Geraldine’s partner Martin and has accomplished much in her life already.
Kate won the IWAS (International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports) junior championship at discus in 2012 and retained the title in 2014. She is also the Irish record holder in the discus and club throw disciplines and is the 2013/2014 Irish champion at club throw.
In addition she was placed third in the world in 2014 for her discus throwing with a throw of 8.92 metres and 13th in the world in the same year for club throw with a throw of 14.13 metres.
“My Cerebral Palsy affects my legs mainly because my balance isn’t great. I can walk a little but not much. My hand formation isn’t great so when I am throwing a discus I throw it over my head,” said Kate. “The rules allow me to throw the discus whatever way suits me. I also compete at club throw (the Paralympics equivalent of the hammer throw) and I hold the Irish record at 14.13 metres. I used to throw the shot putt but I don’t do that any more. I will probably get back into it.”
Kate’s mum Geraldine is a member of the Kildare Sports Partnership board and Kate was introduced to sport through the partnership.
“I was with the Starfish Club at Moore Abbey when I was younger and I used to do some swimming there,” said Kate. At the time Kildare Sports Partnership had a Sports Inclusion Development Officer (SIDO) Áine Coogan and she would have got me interested in sports. I went along first for the social side of things as a leisure activity and for the social side of things. Kildare Sports Partnership doesn’t have a SIDO at present but there are plans to appoint one now. I also got the opportunity to do work experience with Syl Merrins (Sports Co-ordinator with Kildare Sports Partnership) and that was great.”
The appointment of a SIDO would encourage young people with disabilities to take up sport according to Kate. “If a SIDO was appointed it would be great because they would encourage people to get involved in sport in the same way that I was. In the school I can’t get involved and that is the same for others like me who are in mainstream schools. This is because teachers don’t have the skills or training to enable us to get involved and this means that when the rest of my class are doing PE I just go home and train by myself.
“A SIDO would work with schools to give them the skills and training that they need. The appointment of a SIDO would also encourage clubs who don’t have disabled members to see how they can include people with disabilities among their membership.”
Regular training, combined with travel, ensures Kate keeps a busy schedule. “Competition season is from April to the middle of September. I do my indoor training at Rossgrange in Wexford which is on the Waterford border. One of the coaches has a place set up there for us to train. I try to train three days a week. I also train at the Irish Institute of Sport at Blanchardstown. In Blanchardstown they have a team of people who work with us, such as physios, nutritionists and coaches. “Everybody is working to the same plan, the physio knows how I am doing physically, the nutritionist is advising me on my diet, while at the same time the coach is deciding what type of training I do and for how long I train.”
Kate competes as an F32 class athlete and she explained what this means. “Athletes are assessed on a points’ basis to establish their level of ability and the number of points decides what class you compete in. There is an A and B standard that you have to reach. It’s getting harder, in the last year the A standard has gone up by a metre and a half. I am on the development panel at the moment. To compete in the Paralympics you have to be on the senior panel. A friend of mine was on the senior panel but the numbers were cut due to funding and she is back on the development panel. I won’t be going to Rio in 2016 but I do hope to go to Tokyo in 2020, that’s my goal.”
For Kate’s family finances dictate that their life is intertwined with her competing according to Geraldine. “Clubs cost €50 each, a frame which each athlete needs to compete can cost up to €1,000. It’s expected that Kate will compete at international competitions because of the level she is at. If she doesn’t go it’s frowned upon. So our holidays tend to be Kate’s sports trips because she needs someone with her to help her. Some funding comes from the Paralympics organisation and a fundraiser was done in 2011 to raise funds for travel and equipment. Other than that it’s hard to raise funds.”
When she isn’t training or competing, Kate is busy studying. “I’m doing my Leaving Certificate at the moment at Cross and Passion in Kilcullen. Because of that I am not at warm weather training which is going on at the moment in Gran Canaria. My muscles work better in the heat so it is disappointing that I couldn’t go. My ambition is to go to Waterford Institute of Technology. They have a good sports scholarship there and they have links with Paralympics Ireland. There are one or two coaches down there who will coach me if I get my course and there is a high performance gym in the college which would mean I wouldn’t have to be going to the sports campus in Blanchardstown. I hope to study software systems development.”
Geraldine explained that Software Systems Development is a natural fit for her daughter. “Because of her condition Kate has been working with technology since she was three and it’s something she is very interested in so it would be a natural progression for her. If Kate gets the course she will require a PA to help her during the day while she is in college and then she will need another PA to help her in the evening after college. At the moment she has a PA helping her with her work at school and she gets extra time to do the exams because everything takes Kate that bit longer because of her condition.”
Travelling to competitions has introduced Kate to possibilities she may not have known about if she wasn’t involved in sport said Geraldine. “Kate has always struggled with aerobic fitness because she doesn’t walk without a frame and she can’t run. So when we were away at one of the competitions we came across a guy from Scotland who had a running bike. This is a three-wheel bike previously used by people who have spinal injuries. Kate can sit on it with her weight supported on the bike and she uses her legs to move. This allows her to build up the muscle and therefore the strength in her legs and it will also build up her lung function through aerobic exercise.”
Martin, who himself used to lift weights and compete in martial arts, says that not only is the running bike an excellent training tool for Kate but the possibility is also there for her to compete on the bike as a sport in its own right. “We only have the bike since last October or November so Kate is just getting used to it now. Who knows in the future she might compete on the bike when she gets used to it.”
“The appointment of a SIDO would also encourage clubs who don’t have disabled members to see how they can include people with disabilities among their membership”