Paralympic champion Tully Kearney shares an insight during National Inclusion Week (25th September - 1st October) into her progress towards founding ‘Now I Can Run East Midlands’ and improve inclusive and accessible sporting opportunities in the area.
Following on from her involvement on the pilot of UK Sport’s Powered by Purpose programme, Tokyo 2020 Paralympic gold medallist Tully Kearney is continuing her progress in developing a frame running club in Loughborough.
Frame running is an adapted sport for children, young people and adults who cannot functionally run and rely on sports aids for mobility and balance. A frame runner is a three-wheeled frame where the athlete is supported by a saddle and body plate. The athlete propels against the frame using their feet, and steers using the mobility within their hands or arms.
Embodying National Inclusion Week 2023’s theme of ‘Take Action Make Impact’, Kearney - who uses frame running as part of her cross training for racing in the pool - has identified the impact she can have in using her time and platform to create inclusive and accessible sporting opportunities – with establishing the East Midlands based club just the start of her ambitions.
“Frame running has become invaluable as part of my cross training as an athlete with a more severe impairment," said Tully, a ten-time Para Swimming World Championship gold-medal winner.
“Many kids with more severe disabilities have never been a part of a club, either due to inaccessibility or lack of awareness. The opportunity to join a group with peers they can identify with where they can socialise, get all of the benefits of being physically active, and also have fun is so important and can make such a difference to a child’s confidence and self-esteem.”
Before relocating her swim training base to Loughborough University in the past year, Kearney was part of a frame running club in Manchester - and found that it still remained her closest active club despite moving to the Midlands.
Charity grants and donations received to date have enabled the purchase of a handful of starter running frames and accessories, helping put the club in a closer position to facilitate taster sessions for local children. The fundraising efforts of Kearney and her team continues with the determination to be able to expand this offering further.
Revealing what impassions her to take on the responsibility alongside training to drive the project forward, Tully added: “Seeing how much impact frame running has on young kids who cannot walk - but put them on a frame runner and they can run laps of a track! I believe that everyone deserves to experience that feeling of freedom the sport provides.
“It’s just an amazing experience to see, not only their reactions, but their family and friends too. There are so many children and young people out there that would greatly benefit from access to a frame, so knowing that is what keeps me going at this grassroots level. And who knows, one of these youngsters might one day become a Paralympian like me!”
Having been part of the first cohort to participate in UK Sport’s Powered by Purpose initiative, Kearney spoke of how the six-month programme has helped further equip her campaign to make a difference in the community while still competing.
“Before starting on the programme I thought I had some idea of how to use my platform, but the workshops and incredible guest speakers as well as the other athletes on the course have really opened my eyes to how much we can actually use our platform to make worthwhile change and how powerful our voice can be, as well as giving me the tools I need to do so," she said.
There has been plenty of learning also as Kearney has worked through the stages of building the foundations to prepare ‘Now I Can Run East Midlands’ to officially launch in the coming months.
“Day-to-day as an elite athlete, you never really have to think about all the work that goes into running a club!" added Tully.
“Applying for grants, getting confirmed track access, and finding storage and insurance for the frames have been things I’ve had to learn as I go. It’s really made me appreciate club volunteers and coaches even more now I know what actually happens behind the scenes.”To support Tully Kearney and find out more about ‘Now I can Run East Midlands’ you can visit the Just Giving page here.
Tully's fellow Tokyo Paralympic medallist Grace Harvey is part of the latest UK Sport Powered By Purpose cohort.