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UEL Road to Rio: Vanessa Daobry overjoyed at Paralympic selection

By Simon Hart

Just 18 months after picking up a shot for the first time and hurling it skywards, University of East London (UEL) student Vanessa Daobry has done the unthinkable – by earning selection for the Rio Paralympics.

Vanessa has been named in the 54-strong British track and field squad for the Rio Games from Sept 7-18, completing a remarkable journey from novice to elite athlete since attending a shot put try-out session in December 2014.

News of her selection was broken to her in a phone call from Paula Dunn, head coach of British ParaAthletics – prompting a noisy celebration.

“When I heard the phone ring I honestly thought she was calling to tell me that, unfortunately, I hadn’t made it,” said Vanessa.

“When she said ‘congratulations’, I screamed and there was, sadly, a large amount of delirium and laughing. I couldn’t speak. I literally couldn’t take it in and I just couldn’t stop laughing.

“It’s unreal. It still hasn’t sunk it yet. There are almost no words to describe how I feel. I’m excited, I’m giggly, I’m scared witless and I just can’t believe it.

“I only picked up a shot last year and I’m going to the Paralympics. How the hell did that happen?”

Vanessa, a wheelchair athlete who competes in the F34 shot put classification, has made such rapid progress in her sport that she was handed her GB debut at International Paralympic Committee (IPC) European Athletics Championships in Grosseto, Italy, in June.

Her improvement as an athlete has coincided with her time at UEL, where she has been studying an access course for mature students called New Beginnings. Having passed her exam, she will begin a degree in sport and exercise science when she returns from Rio in September.

Being at the University has given Vanessa access to state-of-the-art facilities and expert support from strength and conditioning coaches Duncan Ogilvie and Julie Gooderick, physiotherapist Simon Lack and sports therapists Amy Smith and Jacqueline Bormann.

My coach [Alison O’Riordan] reigns supreme but the UEL team have played a big part,” she said. “Without the support of UEL, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now. They all work so well together.

“I’ve got stronger, I’ve got quicker and they have helped me learn how to be an athlete. Last year I competed without any of that kind of support and to have it there before and during the season and in the run-up to the Paralympics makes me feel so much better.”

Vanessa, who lives in Haringey, has used a wheelchair for the last nine years.

She was born with a muscular skeletal condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and also developed a neurological condition called Dystonia, which makes her body go into abnormal postures.

She took up wheelchair racing in 2012 with the Haringey Wheelers club to try to get fitter before being invited to try the shot put.

She was told she was a “natural” at throwing and by the end of the 2015 athletics season she was already ranked No 1 in the UK.

Her selection for Rio completes a remarkable few weeks for the 38-year-old, who earlier this month was appointed to the Inspiration Programme Board for the 2017 Wold ParaAthletics Championships.