Paul Thomas, a 49 year old lecturer at Plumpton College has gained two bronzes and a gold medal for Great Britain this year.
Paul suffers from Clauda Equina Syndrome. The condition affects his spinal cord and weakens the strength in his muscles, making some movements painful. In order to overcome his disability Paul uses poles to aid his running.
Paul has come across opposition when trying to take part in cross country races as organisers have claimed that his poles may become a health and safety risk.
Last year he was banned from three races and disqualified from another for using ‘technical aids.’ This year Paul has faced further issues but has continued to fight for the recognition of disabled athletes.
Paul said “It is health and safety gone mad, organisers should be looking at ability not disability.”
Nigel Herron, one of Paul’s coaches from Phoenix Athletics and Triathlon Club, Brighton, added: “Paul poses no more risk to himself or others than I, or any other athlete.”
Paul has fought fiercely for the right to race in and has already completed two races which he was initially banned from this year.
Organisers of the Goodwood Relays and Haywards Heath Open Cross Country races told Paul he could not take part in their events upon his first request but his tenacity won them over.
Paul said: “Telling me that I may be a danger is against the Disability Discrimination Act. Organisers have to prove that I am more of a danger than anyone else to prevent me from running.”
Paul has been in contact with England Athletics who are now working to improve their inclusion policy. Elspeth Turner, Club and Coach Support Officer at England Athletics said: “We have developed an Inclusion Policy and a Guidance document for Race Organisers which clearly state that England Athletics are focused on inclusion.”
England Athletics will now “seek to ensure that we comply with the Equality Act 2010 and that we encourage our affiliated members to do so.”
The documents are currently being drafted but the overall aim is to ensure that “athletes with disabilities can participate as fully as possible within athletics events.”
Having made huge progress for disabled athletes across the country Paul is also hoping to see progress for Paratriathlon as a nationally recognised sport.
Paratriathlon is being considered for inclusion in the 2016 Parolympics which will be held in Rio. The International Parolympic Committee (IPC) are due to announce their decision in December this year.
The IPC’s decision, if it is made in favour of Paratriathlon, will give Paul a huge incentive and provide him with much more funding.
It took Paul eight years to recover from the initial trauma of his diagnosis. His motto, ‘disabled, but able to do triathlon’ is an inspiration to many and he hopes that more recognition will help to motivate more people.
Paul’s achievements were recognised by England Athletics when he was awarded the South East Region Services to Disability Athletics Award. He is now due to be considered for the national award within the category for his commitment and ongoing dedication. Paul’s website can be found at http://www.disabledathlete.co.uk.