How Chorley sprinter Graeme Ballard overcame the odds to become a medal winner (From Lancashire Telegraph)
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How Chorley sprinter Graeme Ballard overcame the odds to become a medal winner
WHEN Paralympian Graeme Ballard was born his father Dennis could hold him in the palm of his hand.
Delivered thirteen-and-a- half weeks early, he weighed just 2lb. He was so tiny, with undeveloped lungs, he was starved of oxygen causing cerebral palsy.
Doctors warned his parents that he would never walk, or talk, and wouldn’t make it beyond his teenage years.
But, despite being told to put their only son into a home, Dennis and mum Barbara, who lost two babies before having Graeme, were determined not to give up on him.
Barbara said: “Graeme was in a wheelchair and his severe learning difficulties, along with his epilepsy, meant he couldn’t communicate.
“He was always really poorly and spent more time at the hospital than he did at home.
“Before Graeme we lost a baby girl after 24 hours and had a stillborn boy. We wanted the best for Graeme.”
With years of tests and hospital visits the Chorley-born couple wanted their son to have a better life, so they bought him a horse for his eighth birthday.
“We had just had enough. It was abysmal. He had no life, so that’s when we got Chester the horse.
“And that’s when it all changed. He was more alert.
“Eventually his balance got better and, after a while, he could trot, and then he could gallop,” said 61-year-old Barbara, who cares full time for her son.
Graeme showed signs of improvement as he grew up, but still had daily seizures, and travelled as far as Oxford to see specialists.
His illness was dominanting his life but, with time, he became ‘something else’ thanks to his sheer hard work, and dedication from his parents.
In May, the 33-year-old athlete broke the world record in the T36 100m category, with a time of 11.98 seconds at the Paralympic World Cup, in Manchester.
In addition to his world record, one of his greatest achievements was winning a bronze medal in the T36 200m at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, and he has represented Great Britain for almost 10 years.
Graeme first got involved in the sport when he was 19 while attending Beaumont College in Lancaster.
He was then asked to compete at the Cerebral Palsy Sport competition, in Nottingham, an event for people with cerebral palsy, providing sporting opportunities, a year later.
Dennis said: “It frightened us when we first saw him running. His speed was amazing and his legs crossing made us nervous.
“To him it was just a hobby when he started, but his talent was recognised and he went from there really.
“We were shocked when he came back with three medals from the C P Sport competition. It was like he changed for the better once he started with the sports.”
Since then, Graeme has competed for the national 7-a-side football team, and swum at a national level, but wasn’t confident enough to compete in those sports at the Games.
“Swimming was a no-go for him although he is good. His muscles tend to get cold when he is out of the pool and can seize up. And he didn’t fancy the football because he didn’t want to let the team down if he was a little off-balance that day,” said Dennis.
From the moment Graeme joined Chorley Athletic and Triathlon Club, coaches and staff members said that he ‘stood out’ because of his talent and his detemination.
Terry Dickinson, a member of the sports club, said that they are extremely proud of Graeme’s achievements.
He said: “We always knew that Graeme would go far. He is a very talented young man.
“He is a good sport and very determined, and we all know that he is a lad with talent.
“Along with the good guidance and the infrastructure of the club, including the support that he has had from his coach Frank, everyone here in Chorley is extremely proud of him and we are sure he will succeed with everything he tries.”
Graeme now trains with Horwich RMI Harriers and can even lift three-times his own body weight.
Dennis added: “It is a balancing act for Graeme to walk, let alone run, and it is absolutely amazing how he even runs at all given his condition.
“He has brought so much joy to us that we can’t even explain. It has been hard bringing him up, but it’s been worth every minute. Barbara and I are very, very proud.”
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