Sunday, 14 April 2024
Sunday, 14 April 2024

Meggan Dawson-Farrell: My sporting journey sitting on the side lines to making headlines

MEGGAN Dawson-Farrell, a proud ambassador of Children Today, was born with spina bifida and also has the condition hydrocephalus.

Meggan was unable to take part in sports at school but began after attending a youth sports camp at the age of 14. Now having switched from her early passion of wheelchair racing to wheelchair curling, competing in the Paralympics and Commonwealth games, things have changed a lot and Meggan’s previous experience of being excluded from sports at school is a thing of the past, but her journey hasn’t been an easy one!  

We asked Meggan to share her experience of access to sport and exercise and her journey to becoming a professional athlete. 

Meggan said:

“Let me take you back to primary school. My sporting passions didn’t start out early on like a lot of children, I was a little late to the party, what can I say I’m a late bloomer! Primary school for me wasn’t the best experience when it came to sports or P.E., being disabled I wasn’t allowed to take part in any kind of sports just in case I hurt myself or someone else if I fell over. Being young, you don’t want to speak out or rock the boat, so I kept quiet and just went along with it. Looking back now I wish I had spoken up and said I wanted to join in any way that I could, whether I had equipment that was adapted so I was able to take part, or just managed without, because where there’s a will there’s a way, and I desperately wanted to play sports!

“However, instead of being able to participate, I was taken off to an empty classroom to either colour in or play on the chalkboard. Sports day would come around each year, but I was never able to take part. My job was always either timing the other pupils in races or handing out medals at the end of the day. 

Meggan Dawson-Farrell: My sporting journey sitting on the side lines to making headlines

“A couple of years later, it was then time to move on to high school and despite my bad experience with sports in primary school, I was excited to move on to new things and finally get involved with sports. Unfortunately, I was wrong and I wasn’t allowed to take part in any sports with my classmates. I was taken off to a fitness suite with a learning assistant where I was able to use an exercise bike to get some exercise. This was great for the small amount of time I got to use it until new rules came into place which meant that because it was cold my assistant wasn’t allowed to be in such a cold environment for her own safety! To this day, that decision still baffles me. Isn’t a gym supposed to be a bit colder? Surely, nobody wants to exercise in a hot environment!

“This meant I was no longer allowed to use the exercise bike, which meant that there was no more sport or exercise for me, and I was back to sitting on the sidelines wishing I was with all my peers. But I never felt like I could challenge it,  I just got on with it. 

“After leaving school I didn’t take part in any form of sports, I think I was scared off. That is, until one day my mum told me we were going on a little day trip to Largs, so my mum got us all packed into the car and I headed off with her and my aunt on our little trip. Once we were a little outside of Largs my mum dropped the bombshell on me saying we weren’t going on a day trip, but I was actually going to a sports camp which was being run by Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland.

“Of course, I started to come out with all the excuses, that I wasn’t feeling well and that I needed to go to hospital, but she knew I was fine. Once we got into the building I was completely distraught and just kept saying I wasn’t staying and told my mum I would run away, my mum and my aunt were supposed to just be going home and coming back for me in a few days but because I said I was going to run away they knew that they wouldn’t be able to leave and go home. Just in case I did actually run away, my mum and aunt ended up booking into a B&B nearby and going to a local shop for underwear and a toothbrush as they had nothing with them.  

“Fast forward a couple of days, and it was time to go home. My mum came to collect me and the first thing I did when she walked in was told her to go away, she was too early. I was high as a kite; I’d had a blast. I had been surrounded by kids who were also disabled and so I felt like I was welcome and could relate to other children my age. I’d tried athletics, football, archery, and tennis, just to name a few sports and that was where I found my first sporting passion. 

“A few weeks after coming home on a complete high, after being around so many disabled people like myself, my mum then received an email from Lynne Glen at Scottish Disability Sport, asking if I would like to come along to a local athletics track at Grangemouth Stadium and that was where I tried out athletics for the first time. To say I fell in love instantly would be an understatement!

“At first I was just going around in my everyday chair, then after a few weeks of going along to the track my parents decided that it was time to upgrade and I got my first racing wheelchair, which we travelled down south to collect. The chair had belonged to a shot putter, so it was a little large, looking back at it now but at the time we didn’t know any different. Everyone just thought ‘she can push it so that must be fine’. It definitely wasn’t in hindsight, but it did the job for a while and eventually, I got my first ever properly fitted racing chair. Nonetheless, I feel I owe my career in athletics to my first chair whom I called ‘Herbie’.

“My athletics gave me amazing opportunities to travel all over the world for events, Dubai, Italy, Switzerland and America just to name a few, to so many amazing events, one being Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. What an incredible experience that was, rolling out in front of 40,000 people and hearing the Hamden Roar was absolutely incredible and will stay with me forever. My event was the 1500m where I finished 7th in the final. 

“Fast forward a couple of years, my life took a bit of a turn and I ended up with an unfortunate injury where I got a pressure sore on the back of my leg, this meant I was out of action for a while due to only being able to lie on my stomach or my back and I was like this for five months, either at home or in hospital due to infection. This was quite tough on me as I was so used to being on the go constantly with training, but because I couldn’t do this I started getting a bit down. My parents then started thinking about what I could do, even if it was just for a little bit when I was able to start getting up and about again, and that was where it all began for me again, my new passion – Wheelchair Curling!

“So, where to begin with Wheelchair Curling! Once my wound started to heal a bit I was able to be in my chair for short periods of time. It was then that was when I was invited along to The Peak in Stirling after watching the Wheelchair Worlds in 2018, that was where my real passion for curling started. I was invited along to try out and I joined in with some of the sessions with the Paralympic Squad. It started out as just going to a few sessions once in a while to attending all sessions, and the rest is history. 

“In 2020. I went to my first worlds which were held in Wetzikon in Switzerland, what an incredible experience that was, then Covid-19 hit, and we weren’t sure if we would get home but thankfully, we did, although there are worse places to be stuck. 

“Then in 2022, it was Winter Paralympics year and that was my first ever Paralympics Games. I was selected in the December and was competing in the March, so it was off to Beijing I went. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, but I was also very excited. Pulling on that GB kit was such an incredible feeling and being able to play on such a big stage alongside such a fantastic team was amazing. It’s definitely an experience I will keep with me forever, and now that I’ve has a taste for it, it just makes me want to work that extra bit harder to give myself the best chance and the possibility of being selected again for the next games which are in being held in Milan Cortina in 2026.

“I didn’t have the easiest start in my sporting journey, but a lot has changed. Since the London Paralympics, there is much more acceptance and interest in disability sports. There’s still a long way to go though and charities like Children Today are doing amazing things to help young disabled people get the exercise they need, like all other children. Whether that means dreaming of being the next Paralympic superstar or simply being able to ride a bike with friends and family!”   

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