Summer of Sport

Melanie finds new ways to inspire as Commonwealth Games racer

The first time Melanie Woods sat in a wheelchair after being knocked off her bike and paralysed from the waist down, she struggled to deal with her emotions. She said, “It was just awful – it was scary and emotional.”

In 2018, Melanie started her dream job as a PE teacher at a Glasgow school – a chance to inspire a new generation of active kids. But riding home from work she was struck from behind by a car and flung onto a grass verge.

Melanie said, “To be honest I don’t remember being hit by the car or coming off. I just remember being face down and in excruciating pain.”

The collision shattered her back and her pelvis and broke one of her legs in 3 places. When the ambulance arrived she was asked if she could wiggle her toes. She said, “I don’t think I answered the question because I knew I couldn’t and I knew what that meant. I closed my eyes at that point and kept them closed.”

Melanie was rushed to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness before being transferred to the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow. Doctors told her she would never walk again.

She describes the days and weeks that followed as “a gradual acknowledgement of what life would be like”. As a keen sportswoman she was determined to stay active and even went to Colorado to learn how to para ski. But it was a visit to her local athletics club (Red Star Athletics in Glasgow) that introduced her to wheelchair racing.

She said, “I saw a whole range of para athletes doing wheelchair racing – everyone from complete beginners doing it for fun, to people training full time for the Paralympics. It convinced me to give it a go. I’d always done team sports so an individual sport where I could test myself was something I was excited about.”

The 27-year-old readily admits it was hard at first. She said, “Racing wheelchairs are definitely not designed for comfort! It’s a shock to the system. But the fact I was so bad was the best thing about it – I knew I could only get better. I was just determined to see how good I could get. I started training full time, twice a day. I was absolutely committed.”

All her hard work paid off when she was selected to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021. She finished fifth in the T54 800m event – not bad for a Paralympics debut! Next up, the 2022 Commonwealth Games as part of Team Scotland’s wheelchair racing squad. She and teammate Sammi Kinghorn MBE – a double Paralympic medallist – will compete in the TS4 1500m event in Birmingham.

Melanie is among more than 1,000 elite athletes supported through UK Sport’s World Class Programme thanks to National Lottery players The programme allows athletes to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

Ask her what goes through her mind at the start of a big race and she doesn’t hesitate. She said, “This is me proving what I can do despite the challenges that I’ve faced. It reminds me of what it’s all about.”

Thanks to National Lottery players, over £40Million has gone to support the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

26th July 2022

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