A teenager has won a medal in a national wheelchair race two years after a life-changing injury.
Ellis Kottas, 19, from West Malling, started wheelchair racing last summer after suffering a spinal cord injury in September 2020 which left her hospitalized for months.
The former competitive swimmer said: “I was in hospital for a very long time. It was really difficult. The first few weeks and months I was just bedridden. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything. “
Having previously competed in swimming from the age of nine until his injury, Ellis took a long break from sports while recovering in hospital.
She added: “While I was in hospital I knew I wanted to get back into the sport. It really helps to show that your body can still do things.
“You might have different abilities, but you’re still able to do things, and that’s why I really wanted to come back to that.
“But it was quite a difficult decision, which I wanted to do, because I knew I could go back to swimming but I think I would have compared myself a lot to what I was before.
“It was actually quite nice to have a fresh start. We contacted a lot of places, and we found the Weir Archer Academy online and went to watch them practice at a roller skating session, which is known to be really tough.
“I was sitting there watching everyone working so hard, they all looked so exhausted, and I thought, this is what I want to do. To really dedicate myself to a sport, like I did with swimming.”
The Weir Archer Academy is a wheelchair athletics training and coaching academy run by David Weir, CBE, and Jenny Archer, MBE.
David Weir is a British Paralympic wheelchair athlete who has won six Paralympic Games gold medals and the London Marathon eight times.
Head coach Jenny Archer has many accomplishments to her credit, including coaching David Weir to seven of her London Marathon victories and Josh Cassidy to another, and coaching Paralympic athletes to a total of seven gold medals , three silver and two bronze.
Ellis said that as soon as she started the sport in July last year she “loved it straight away”.
And now, in her first competitive season, she has won a bronze medal at the national school games final.
The National School Games Final is a four-day event featuring 10 sports, including track and field, modern pentathlon, triathlon and wheelchair basketball.
This year the event was held at Loughborough University from September 1-4 and 1,000 school-aged athletes took part.
Former School Games National Finals competitors who have won Olympic and Paralympic medals include Adam Peaty, Dina Asher-Smith, Hannah Cockroft and Max Whitlock.
Ellis finished third in the women’s wheelchair 100 on Saturday, September 3.
The medalist said: “It’s brilliant. I fell in love with wheelchair racing right away and I think as soon as you really like it it really helps your performance.
“But it’s my first season, so it’s really crazy how fast it goes.”
Along with competitions, National School Games Finals emphasize the educational value and preparation of athletes for the next steps in their careers.
During the event, the athletes lived in accommodation at Loughborough University, which Ellis described as being “like a mini version of real international games”.
Competitors were also able to attend Olympian conferences, and disabled and able-bodied athletes were all in one place.
She said: “You get the accommodation, all the other athletes, it was just a really great experience. It wasn’t just about doing your sport, it was all about it.”
The medal ceremony for the women’s wheelchair race was performed by Paralympian and world record holder Hannah Cockroft, and her partner and fellow Paralympian Nathan Maguire.
Ellis said: “It was amazing to have these Olympians handing out medals, maybe to future Olympians. And it was great to hear their stories. It kind of makes you think, what will my story be?”
She will then compete at the World Games of Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) in Portugal at the end of November, and hopes to move on to road racing and longer distances in the future.
For people in a similar situation to her, Ellis had this advice: “Go out there and try new things.
“I didn’t know anything about wheelchair racing, it was just something we kind of found online.
“And I want people to know it’s getting better. You recover, a lot more. Life is getting back to normal. It’s a new normal, but it’s not going to stay this bad.”