Con­tin­u­ing our se­ries on stars run­ning the Lon­don Marathon. This week: Richard White­head

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Wellbeing -

Richard White­head, 30, of Col­wick, in Not­ting­hamshire, works by help­ing dis­abled peo­ple in the county get in­volved in sports. He was born with­out legs be­low the knee, but throws him­self into sport with a fe­roc­ity that mocks the word “dis­abil­ity”. He will run the Flora Lon­don Marathon us­ing pros­thetic legs, and is aiming for a fiercely com­pet­i­tive time. Was there a mo­ment when you de­cided that ‘dis­abil­ity’ wouldn’t stop you be­ing ath­letic? No. I was born with­out legs — I have knee joints, but noth­ing be­low the knee — and I’ve al­ways had sup­port­ive par­ents. They pushed me into main­stream sport at a young age; I went to a gym­nas­tics club and a swim­ming club. It formed the ba­sis of my ca­reer. So parental at­ti­tude mat­tered? Their sup­port was very im­por­tant for my ath­letic ca­reer, def­i­nitely. How did your in­ter­est in marathon run­ning start? I be­gan com­pet­ing with swim­ming, then sledge hockey (like ice-hockey on sledges) and I went to Turin for the 2006 Par­a­lympic Win­ter Games with Great Bri­tain. I was fit but had al­ways wanted to run, par­tic­u­larly in a marathon. I couldn’t with the legs I use in ev­ery­day life, but in 2004 a firm called Os­sur do­nated pros­thet­ics — about £15,000 a pair — made of com­pressed car­bon fi­bre, which en­able me to com­pete on a level play­ing field with any other run­ner. Are they com­fort­able? They have to be. I’m do­ing 40 to 50 miles train­ing a week. What have you achieved so far? I’ve done four marathons, in­clud­ing the New York Marathon in 4hrs 9mins. I’ve just com­pleted the Sil­ver­stone Half-Marathon in 1 hr 38 min. Out of 9,000 run­ners I was 683rd. What are you aiming for in the Lon­don Marathon? I’m try­ing to break four hours. Is run­ning harder with pros­thetic legs? A friend who works in pros­thet­ics told me a dou­ble-leg am­putee needs to use twice as much en­ergy as a nor­mal marathon run­ner. Do peo­ple stare? Yes of course, but that spurs me on. I get a lot of sup­port through that. Peo­ple see me and say “Look at this guy…” and I feel I’m show­cas­ing dis­abled sport. It doesn’t bother me. What’s the hard­est part of a marathon for you? I find start­ing quite hard be­cause you are with thou­sands of peo­ple and try­ing to get your own run­ning space. When I run it’s all about for­ward mo­men­tum. Get­ting wa­ter and en­ergy drinks is hard, too, with so many peo­ple cross­ing over. So I run with a friend. What do you want the crowd to think of you? That I’m a nor­mal ath­lete, who’s out to prove that, even though you have a dis­abil­ity, you

can do some­thing pos­i­tive in your life. Views are chang­ing? Def­i­nitely. If you want to par­tic­i­pate in sport and have a dis­abil­ity you can get in­volved. Many able­bod­ied peo­ple are get­ting in­volved in sport be­cause of what we do. It makes me re­alise the work I’m do­ing is get­ting through. RichardWhite­head will be run­ning the Flora Lon­don Marathon (www.lon­don­, on April 22, for Macmil­lan Can­cer Sup­port. At last year’s event, Team Macmil­lan run­ners and sup­port­ers raised £1.1 mil­lion, help­ing Macmil­lan to pro­vide sup­port for peo­ple af­fected by can­cer, their car­ers, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, across Bri­tain. De­tails on 020 7840 7878 or see www.macmil­­don­marathon. Are you an­gry? No. The op­por­tu­ni­ties I’ve been able to have are far greater than those of a lot of my friends. You are born in a cer­tain way and can al­ways wish to be some­thing else. But you deal with the sit­u­a­tion and that’s how it moulds your life. Ni­cholas Roe

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