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UEL Road to Rio: Vanessa Daobry salutes support team for getting her to Paralympics


Wheelchair athlete cannot wait to compete in F34 shot put in Brazil

By Simon Hart

Wheelchair athlete Vanessa Daobry has admitted she would not have made it to the Rio Paralympics without the support and expertise of staff at the University of East London (UEL).

Just 18 months after trying out as a shot putter for the very first time, Vanessa will complete a remarkable journey from novice to elite athlete when she makes her Paralympic debut in Brazil.

Astonishingly, she goes into her F34 shot put competition on 14 September ranked second in Europe and fourth in the world – an achievement she attributes to her coach, Alison O’Riordan, and the strength and conditioning and sports massage teams at UEL.

“It’s a total team effort,” said Vanessa, who lives in Haringey. “It wouldn’t have happened without everyone’s involvement in helping to make me into an athlete.”

After attending her first shot put try-out with Alison in December 2014, Vanessa says her throwing moved to a new level when she started training at UEL under the supervision of the University’s head of strength and conditioning, Duncan Ogilvie (pictured left with intern Larissa Chloe, high performance support Julie Gooderick and high performance sports manager Matthew Tansley).

While training in the UEL gym, Vanessa, 39, also completed the University’s ‘New Beginnings’ access course for mature students and will begin a BSc degree in Sport and Exercise Science when she returns from the Paralympics.

She said, “My strength and conditioning team at UEL have been a really big part of getting me to the Paralympics by building a really strong foundation and working not just on strengths and weaknesses but helping to figure out how my body works. I am excessively grateful for all their support.”

Before taking up shot put, Vanessa, had no background as a sporting competitor and admits she was extremely unfit and unconfident about her body.

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 has used a wheelchair for the last nine years after her condition degenerated to the point where she was pretty much confined to bed.

Although she had joined the Haringey Wheelers club in 2012 and started exercising on the track to try improve her quality of life, she says she had no idea whether she could handle a new physical activity, particularly one involving hurling a 3kg shot. 

But Alison had spotted that Vanessa had the physique to be a thrower and convinced her that she could turn her into an athlete if she was willing to commit to it. 

Alison said, “It’s all down to her work ethic and her wanting to make a change in her life.
“She has some physical attributes – the fact that she’s long-limbed and tall. But she has never had a sporting background so it’s been a complete learning experience for her.”

Duncan has witnessed the same work ethic in Vanessa’s UEL gym sessions, which she attends there times a week. 

“She’s very professional,” said Duncan. “She comes in on time every time. She’s everything you want in an athlete and everything she has achieved is 100 per cent down to her professionalism.

“The disability that Nessa has is a new thing for me so I had to do some research, but my philosophy is to focus on what she can do and not what she can’t do. I think that’s been really successful because we’ve made lots of great progress.

“Her strength has improved quite considerably, and that boils down to improving her natural strength but also improving her neurologically as well. 

“Just the way she can hold her body and hold positions now is night and day to what it was in October. The feedback her body gives to her brain and vice versa is so much better.”

Duncan says Vanessa’s selection for the Paralympics is a huge reward for the efforts of the UEL support staff and they are looking forward to adding one of Vanessa’s Rio shirts to the collection of sports memorabilia that decorates the walls of the UEL gym.

“We’re very proud that she’s made it to Rio,” he said. “I didn’t really have much of a doubt that she would, but I know she was a bit nervous.

“We’ve got a team here of myself, three assistants and 12 interns and all of us at some point have assisted Vanessa, so we’re all really proud and we’re looking forward to hanging her T-shirt on the wall when she gets back from Rio.”

Vanessa, who admits her initial reaction to being selected for Rio was one of “screaming and hilarious laughter”, says she cannot wait to test herself against the world’s best throwers.

“I’m looking forward to the whole experience – being part of the team, meeting new athletes,” she said. “I’m looking forward to everything, but especially the competition and really seeing where I am. 

“I would love a medal but I want to try to be realistic and just do the best that I can. I have to accept that I am a new athlete and I’m still learning. But as long as I can live up to my expectations, I’ll be happy.”