Active Hands help four special athletes seek gold in Rio
With the Olympics now wrapped up and the Paralympics about to explode into action, the excitement around the globe is spreading as all eyes once again turn to Rio. After an initial slow start to ticket sales, a sudden surge has meant that over a million have now been acquired by eager spectators and many events are sold out, hopefully ensuring a lively, spirited atmosphere to rival that of London four years ago. In anticipation for the occasion, Active Hands has caught up with some of their users who will be among the thousands of athletes competing for gold this year.
Joanna was born in Doncaster in the UK but later moved up to Glasgow where she served as a civil servant in the British Army. In 2011 she developed a spinal tumour which resulted in her being quadriplegically paralysed from the chest down, with weakened arms and limited finger function. Determined to remain as active and independent as possible, Joanna took up wheelchair rugby as soon as she was discharged from the Glasgow Spinal Unit and before long was vice-captain of the Caledonian Crushers. In 2014, Joanna decided to make the switch from rugby to field and was classified to compete in the F51 club and discus throw. That same year, she was selected for the GB squad to compete at the IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea where she won gold in the club throw; setting a new European record of 17.68m. She followed this up the following year by winning gold at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha; cementing her place at the Rio Paralympics.
Not only does Joanna use her Active Hands aids in the gym but she also relies on her General Purpose Gripping Aid when competing, using it to hold onto the static pole with one hand whilst throwing the club or discus with the other. It is a vital part of the kit she will be using in Rio and can hopefully help her bring home the gold!
“Build a good team around you, work to be the best version of you and never give up.” – Joanna Butterfield
Zak was born in the Canadian province of Alberta but now resides in neighbouring British Columbia. When he was ten years old, Zak lost his fingers and legs to a septic staph infection. A lover of competitive, fast-paced sports, Zak tried out sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball before discovering his true calling in wheelchair rugby. Despite having only played for a year at the time, Zak was chosen to represent Canada in London 2012 and proved to be the wild card of the tournament, helping them win silver. In 2014, he was voted MVP in both the World Wheelchair Rugby Championships and the Canada Cup International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament. A year later, he helped lead the team to its first gold medal in 13 years in the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games and was Team Canada’s flag bearer during the closing ceremony. Off the court, Zak is an athlete ambassador for the Paralympic Foundation of Canada’s ‘Champions Journey’ fundraising campaign and also gives his time to The War Amps of Canada.
Zak relies on his Active Hands aids in the gym as they allow him to grip, lift and pull a variety of weights and machines, helping him to increase his strength, endurance and power which are integral to his game. Playing as a 3.5 (the highest functioning rank on court), Zak is able to control and dictate play, with his all-around game being vital to Team Canada’s hunt for gold!
Rachael was born and raised in Queensland, Australia. At the age of two, she was diagnosed with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. Rachael initially took up swimming as a form of physiotherapy and pain relief but quickly found she had a natural talent for it and in 2011, began competing in the S8 category. Then in 2013, she acquired the muscle-weakening condition, Guillain–Barre syndrome. Determined not to be beaten by this crushing setback, Rachael learned to swim again; a physically and emotionally exhausting process which required her to wear a life jacket for several months. In 2015, she was reclassified as an S4 swimmer and has since broken Oceanic records in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle, and the 50m butterfly. She was spotted by coaches of the Australian Paralympic Swimming squad at the 2016 Australian National Championships when she narrowly missed out on the world record in the 100m freestyle and a few months later, she made her international debut at the IDM Berlin Open. After winning the women’s 50m freestyle, she has proven she has what it takes to compete for gold at Rio.
A keen volunteer, Rachael currently helps out at the Children’s Hospital Foundation. In 2011, she was named the Queensland Young Volunteer of the Year. She is also a music lover and has honours in piano and music theory from the Australian Music Examinations Board.
Due to her limited grip and muscle weakness, Rachael depends on her Active Hands aids when in the gym, as they allow her to make full use of the machines on offer. This enables her to improve her fitness and stamina levels, ensuring a peak performance when she gets into the pool in Rio!
Mandip is one of the stalwarts of disability sport and is about to take part in his 3rd Paralympics for Team GB. Recently he was good enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and answer a few questions I put to him over Facebook:
Name? Mandip Sehmi
Spinal cord injury level, the cause of injury and year of injury? C6/7 Road traffic accident in 2000.
Fun fact about yourself? I love football and I’m a huge Liverpool fan.
Sport competing in? Wheelchair Rugby
How did you first get into this sport? I was introduced into Wheelchair Rugby while in hospital at Stoke Mandeville Hospital by Bob O’Shea, who was the captain of the GB team heading out to the Sydney Paralympics. He used to run mini sessions of the sport as part of the hospital rehab program, along with another coach called Jim Kelly. It was by far the most enjoyable sport I tried!
Biggest achievement(s) in this sport? I have been part of the GB team for 11 years. I’m a double Paralympian, have numerous European medals but for me, the highlight of my career has been representing my country at a home games! London 2012 was the most amazing experience ever! Something that will stay in my heart forever!
How did you first hear about Active Hands? I trained with Rob Smith, the designer of Active Hands.
What were your initial thoughts when you first started using the gripping aids? It gave me a sense of freedom in the gym; I was able to do so much more.
How do you think Active Hands has helped you progress as an athlete? Some of the exercises I do just wouldn’t be possible without the grips. I’m able to lift so much more than my hands can hold with them.
What does representing your country at Rio mean to you? It’s going to be my third games, I still feel so honoured to wear the GB flag on my chest.
Main positive(s) of being a Paralympian? Representing your country at the highest level of your sport!
Any negative(s) of being a Paralympian? You have to be committed; I’ve missed so many birthdays and weddings.
Any thoughts about the future after Rio? None, I’m trying to focus on the games.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in disability sport? Sport helped me overcome my injury; it helped me get stronger and be more confident. You’ll make great friends who will help you within the sport.
4 athletes from 3 separate continents, competing in 3 different sports at 1 global event and each of them using Active Hands aids to help make their Paralympic dreams a reality. The company says it is proud to have been able to assist these athletes on the road to Rio and will hopefully assist many more in future Paralympic Games.
We hope every reader will join us in wishing Joanna, Zak, Rachael, Mandip and all those competing, a hugely successful and positive Games that will electrify the millions of viewers around the world and inspire the next generation of athletes to get out there and get active!
To find out more about Active Hands, visit the website HERE