Potential future champions given a sporting chance
Elite wheelchair racers from Sunday's Virgin London Marathon took time out from their pre-race schedules to train with young disabled athletes at Mile End Stadium in east London and hand over the new chairs to the youngsters' clubs: Enfield and Haringey, Victoria Park Harriers, Croydon, Lewisham and Kingston and Poly.
The new chairs have been donated as part of the London Marathon's partnership with WheelPower and UK Athletics.
"We are very keen to give more athletes the opportunity to try sport," explained Michelle Weltman, the London Marathon's elite wheelchair coordinator. "The extensive programme with WheelPower and UK Athletics means we can support young talent and show them what wheelchair racing is all about."
Equipment such as specialist, lightweight, made to measure, chairs, gloves and spare tyres can cost thousands of pounds, but when it comes to racing having top quality gear is essential to success.
The London Marathon scheme means racing newcomers can try the chairs at their club before getting their own bespoke chairs through UKA's Parallel Success programme once they've developed their talent.
American racer Joshua George advised the young athletes to enjoy the sport whatever level they reach. "It can be challenging and some days it goes really badly," he said. "But work on those good and bad points in racing and focus on the things you can do."
Sheik Sheik, who won the Virgin Money Giving London Mini Marathon last year, said the new chairs will certainly give him a boost. "It gives us hope for our future in the sport," said the 16-year-old. "We always need support to attract more wheelchair athletes."
Sheik is keen to develop his talent after seeing five-times London wheelchair champion winner David Weir in action. Sheik travels from his home Forest Gate to Kingston and Poly club to train with Weir under his coach, Jenny Archer. He also competes regularly, including at the recent adidas Silverstone half marathon.
"I like to train with David as it really inspires me," Sheik said. "He helps me with my programme and his racing experience means I have someone to advise me - just like a brother."