COFTON Hackett’s Lauren Rowles will complete an incredible two-and-a-half-year journey when she races for England in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next week.
North Bromsgrove High School’s Lauren will be aiming to make it to the final of the women’s T54 1,500m at Hampden Park when she takes part in the heats on Tuesday, when she will be up against some of the best athletes in the world.
At 16, the Coventry & Godiva athlete is the youngest girl competing in the Team England athletics squad and her achievement caps what has been a meteoric rise in a sport she only took up in November 2012, seven months after being diagnosed with a spine-related condition which put her in a wheelchair.
Unlike many many of the T54 athletes who have been born with spinal defects, such as spina bifida, Lauren was able-bodied until she was 13 when one day in February 2012 she woke up unable to feel her legs.
She was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis – a rare neurological condition consisting of an inflammatory process of the spinal cord – and lost the use of her legs.
It was not until July 2012 – after much intensive and painful treatment – that Lauren came out of hospital and over the summer she watched the London Olympics on TV and attended the Paralympics, which inspired her to take up wheelchair racing.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic.” said her mum Natalie. “It seems surreal. When I was watching the (Commonwealth Games) opening ceremony I couldn’t believe it. I am so proud of her representing her country. She was 13 when this happened and she could have given up but she has taken a horrific situation and turned it into something positive.
“She is an inspiration to others and at the Coventry & Godiva Club the kids say, ‘in six years time we could be like Lauren’.
“She never complains and always asks ‘how can I do more and better?’.”
Dreams of Rio
One of Lauren’s dreams is to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games and follow in the footsteps of her hero, the Russian-born USA T54 athlete Tatyana McFadden, who has won ten Paralympic medals and who she met at the London Mini-Marathon in April.
“She would love to be at a Paralympics, however there is a lot of competition, but we never dreamt they would pick her for the Commonwealth Games and they did, so you never know.” said Natalie, who will travel to Glasgow on Sunday with Lauren’s dad Oliver.
Lauren is definitely on the right track to reach her dreams and following on from Glasgow she will travel to Stoke Mandeville where she will represent Great Britain in the IWAS World Junior Games and compete in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m – only this time the aim will be gold.
“This has been a fantastic year for Lauren, especially as she won the U17 Girls three-mile race at the Virgin London Mini-Marathon in April and was presented with her trophy by diver Tom Daly.” said Natalie.
“Last year she won the BBC Newcomer to Sports award at the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Sports Awards (see story opposite) and then Newcomer of the Year at the West Midlands Community Sports Awards.
“In the space of two years she has gone through all that but has still managed to finish her GCSEs (and is expected to get As and Bs) and is now competing in the Commonwealth Games.”
As well as the Glasgow Games and World Juniors, Lauren will be starting sixth form at King Edward VI College Stourbridge in September and wants to study law at university.
“She has always been competitive and into running and at the age of ten she wrote down that she wanted to be a professional runner when she grew up.” she said.
“So, what she is doing, is transferring that competitiveness to a wheelchair.”
Lauren attended the Games’ opening ceremony on Wednesday and told her mum that being part of the games was the most incredible experience ever and the opening ceremony with the Queen was amazing.
You can follow Lauren’s progress on Tuesday between 11.25am and 11.32am when she will compete in the women’s T54 1,500m heats alongside team-mates Jade Jones and Shelly Woods.