This Saturday's Mencap National Athletics Championships is open to athletes and ‘Give it a Go’ amateurs alike and will draw in hundreds of competitors from across the country.
Kathy Collins, who has been running the event since 1997, said: “We've seen so many fantastic, talented sports people pass through the championships over the years and it's been wonderful to see so many flourish and succeed to represent England and Great Britain.
!As the mother of two athletes with a learning disability myself, I understand how important these events are to give talented learning disability athletes the praise and recognition they truly deserve.”
Athletes with a learning disability have faced discrimination and lack of opportunity to compete, partly due to the negative legacy of the Spanish basketball team who were found to have faked having a learning disability in order to compete in the Sydney Paralympics.
While the Championships, which is in its 21st year, is aimed at athletes who have met the qualifying standards in order to compete, there is also a ‘Give it a Go’ event running alongside this, designed for anyone over the age of 13 who just wants to try a new sport in a relaxed and friendly environment.
People at the Give it a Go day will be able to try out a range of track and field events such as 100m, 200m, turbo javelin, shotput and long jump without having qualified, and there are still medals up for grabs in this section.
It’s hoped that those attending the taster sessions might go on to discover a love for a new sport and join athletes in the Championships in years to come.
Officials and volunteers will be on hand during the day to give advice to people taking part to ensure they have the best possible experience.
Kieran O’Hara, one of the UK’s top cross-country runners with a learning disability, attended last year’s Championships.
He said: “It’s exciting to run in a National Championships and it helps me get used to running in big competitions. I get to meet athletes like me from all over the country and make friends, plus it’s such good fun!
“I ran in lots of different races last year and won medals. It showed people that I am a good athlete”
Richard Lawrence, who has a learning disability, works for Mencap and attended the ‘Give it a Go’ day last year, said: “I was so happy as I won gold medals for shotput and 100m, as well as a silver medal for long jump. I would tell people to go along to this year’s event and have fun and enjoy yourself.”
As well as getting young people moving and being a lot of fun, it’s hoped the whole day will go some way to help raise the profile of learning disability sports, which are often forgotten about when it comes to the big sporting calendar.