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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Cumbrian girl aiming to become British Paralympian

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of three, Ella Cooper-Holmes has been battling mobility problems on a daily basis all her life.

Ella Cooper-Holmes photo
Ella Cooper-Holmes

But a passion for sport has spurred her on and despite her disability, she has already achieved great things.

Now 12, the Wigton schoolgirl swims in national events – claiming five medals at this year’s championship – and one day dreams of becoming a British Paralympian.

She recently took up the javelin and went on to win a medal at the Cumbria School Games. She also plays wheelchair basketball and rides horses. Ella’s success to date saw her among the winners at the Allerdale Sports Awards on Friday night.

Despite still recovering from recent major leg surgery, she attended the high-profile ceremony at Maryport’s Wave Centre to pick up her Disability Performance Award.

Mum Joanne, who nominated her, said it was a very emotional moment for the family: “We knew she’d been short-listed but didn’t get our hopes up that she’d win. We couldn’t believe it. We’re so proud. She’s just amazing. She had to go to the ceremony with her pots on. Her eight-year-old brother Scott pushed her up to collect her award. He’s proud too.”

Ella was born with dislocated hips and spent the first year of her life in a cast. But her mum always knew there was something else wrong. By the time she was three she had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy quadriplegia, which affects all her limbs. She also has one leg longer than the other, which adds to her problems. Despite wearing permanent splints, Ella has always gone to a mainstream school and refuses to be held back – giving up many hours a week to train in her various sports.

“She has always swum, since we got the cast off when she was one. She just loved it. All of a sudden she was free. In the water she’s not as restricted,” explained Joanne.

A member of Carlisle Aquatics Club, Ella also travels to Manchester to train with the north west disability swim team. “The first time we went down there it really opened her eyes,” said Joanne. “She realised there were other people like her. Living in a small rural area you don’t really get to see that.”

This year Ella, a pupil at Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton, took part in the National and National Junior swimming championships for the first time, winning medals at both – including two golds. She competes in breaststroke, freestyle and backstroke.

She was further inspired by her visit to the London Paralympics, where she got tickets to watch the swimming in the Aquatic Centre.

“Deep down she would love to be a Paralympian. It really inspired her, seeing all the talented athletes in her classification,” added Joanne.

Ella has had one competition since the Paralympics and went on to achieve five personal best times in six events. She is now focused on recovering from surgery, to help correct a leg and foot problem, after qualifying for next year’s national championships.

Despite her success, Ella remains incredibly modest about both her achievements and her future goals.

She told the News & Star: “I love most sports. It’s just enjoyable to know I can do it. I just want to get better and keep having more fun.”

Ella added that she hopes to be back in the pool by early January.

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