Inspirational Larne Teen Joins GB Paralympic Squad

Pic: Bernie McAllister / Argyll Images

AN inspirational teenager who was struck down by a debilitating illness just four years ago is to represent Great Britain at paralympic level this week.

ClaireTaggartCollectClaire Taggart, 20, from Larne has Functional Dystonia – a condition that contracts muscles in her body forcing them into fixed abnormal positions.

But despite having increasing problems with her legs, hands, speech and other symptoms Claire is refusing to be held back by her illness.

In fact so much so that in four short years she has gone from a healthy teen to paralympic athlete and never let her illness hold her back.

The student of Northern Regional College Newtownabbey in a short space of time is already a champion wheelchair sports star, avid charity fundraiser, entrepreneur and keen hobbyist.

Claire was always an active girl, before she was confined to a wheelchair through her illness she was an independent young woman who could drive, performed as part of an Irish dance group and played sports such as hockey, netball, golf, swimming and tennis.

Pic: Bernie McAllister / Argyll Images

Pic: Bernie McAllister / Argyll Images

Now she has to rely on friends and family for everything but says she isn’t going to let it get her down.

She explained: “Dystonia is debilitating as it can differ at different times during the day. During the night I can be up all night with leg spasms, these are very painful and leave me exhausted.

“They also happen on a daily basis and last for a long time. I now am a full time wheelchair user – manual / power wheelchair.

“My hands are also in a fixed position meaning I find it awkward to use my phone and iPad etc.

Pic: Bernie McAllister / Argyll Images

Pic: Bernie McAllister / Argyll Images

“Everything has changed. I can no longer drive and I find pushing my manual wheelchair difficult. I can only get around my house on my knees as there is no room upstairs for a wheelchair.

“I drink in a special cup and have my food cut up for me, I now rely more on my friends and family more than I ever hoped I would have to, but I’m lucky to have their support.

“If I want to go out I rely on my parents and friends and family to drive me places which I feel terrible about.”

But despite her many physical limitations Claire has refused to let her illness get the better of her.

One sport she got involved in to help keep active was boccia – a sport for disabled people.

“Boccia was the first disability sport I tried thanks to my best friend Talia” she said.

“Once I was introduced I was hooked. Its very tactical with precise movements and throws.

“In December I was told that I would be invited to join the Great Britain Paralympic Boccia squad. It was the best Christmas present you could ever get.

“I’m the first Boccia player from Northern Ireland to represent Great Britain and it is such an honour.

Claire Taggart Sport 1“Since joining the squad my life has completely changed, I am on the Boccia court for 10-15 hours per week plus gym time.

“In April I competed with the team in the continental cup in Barcelona. We won gold in the team event and I went on in the individuals to finish 11/36 at my first competition.”

This week Claire headed for Surrey Sports Park in Guildford to compete in the 2015 Boccia European Games as part of the paralympic boccia squad.

If her team is successful she could be on her way to Rio next year for the official Paralympic Games 2016.

And not only could Claire get the chance to represent Northern Ireland and Great Britain at world level all her training and working out has helped her body fight off the debilitating effects of her dystonia.

She explained: “Winning this week would mean the world to me. Rio is my ultimate dream and goal, that’s what I’m working towards.

“As well as that because of all the preparation for the competitions it has meant that my dystonia has not progressed any further.

Pic: Bernie McAllister / Argyll Images

Pic: Bernie McAllister / Argyll Images

“It’s possible to maintain it at a certain level, for example, I haven’t had any more muscle loss due to training constantly.”

As if all that wasn’t enough for Claire she’s managed to notch well over £4,000 in fundraising for the Children To Lapland Trust.

She set up her own handmade jewellery business to raise the funds and helps to organise events throughout the year.

She said: “I met the chairman of the charity Jack Rogers MBE through a friend and I was in complete awe of what the charity did.

“I have a craft page on facebook selling handmade crafts for the charity and I have helped organise numerous coffee mornings.

“I also took part in the walk to Scotland event for the charity in the past and am trying to raise the profile of this amazing charity in any way I can.

“We are organising a charity golf day for the Trust when I get back on August 16 at Cairndhu Golf Club in Ballygally and will also be having a charity craft fair in September.”

About the Author

Tina Calder
Journalist, commentator, author and content creator specialising in showbiz, entertainment, business, trade, human interest and lifestyle.