Leeds Girls Can Reach the Paralympics

Laura Fitzgerald

Meet Penny in 2016 and she is a whole new person to the woman I met in 2012 – what a difference 4 years has made!


The Active Women project was delivered across Leeds in the attempt to get more women  playing sport.  The Active Women sessions took the form of a multi-sport approach along with a great social session which occasionally involved tea and cake! Anyway, one April afternoon, I received a phone call from a very quiet woman who had heard about Active Women through Twitter and was interested in joining the sessions at Armley Leisure Centre. 


Penny was really concerned that she had never played any sport, and when she had, she had always been excluded from taking part in activities because of her disabilities.  We met for a coffee to discuss the activities and the sessions – a great chat and agreed that Penny would come along to the session and have a go.  Not only did the session prove to Penny that she could take part and play sport, it was so clear to see the impact it made on her confidence and self-esteem within the leisure centre environment.  We played a variety of sports from badminton to netball all of which meant that we played as a team and worked together and over the 10 weeks, Penny continued to blossom.  


At the end of the 10 week block of activity, we continued to keep in touch and I heard that Penny became a regular gym goer.  On the back of the buzz of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, her newly found confidence and her enjoyment for watching athletics competitions, Penny contacted me to ask where she could try out some athletics sessions which would be suitable for her.  Initially we started with the Disability Athletics Sessions run through Leeds City AC.  After a few months Penny was really enjoying the sessions and wanted to push herself further and investigated a number of options available to her. Via Shelley Holroyd at British Athletics, she found her own coach to work with one-on-one, Katie Mapplebeck from City of Sheffield AC, later adding sessions with her university club, University of Sheffield, to her training load.


The transformation in Penny is one that has stuck with me over the years and we continue to be in contact.  Last year, we nominated her as the Disability Sportswoman of the Year at the 2015 Leeds Sports awards for which she was highly recommended. Her passion and enthusiasm for sport is inspiring and she is a true ambassador of the ethos of the latest Sport England This Girl Can campaign.  Her determination has meant that she continues to provide new PB’s year on year and would like to reach the ultimate goal of the Paralympic Games and help more women realise their potential, whether that’s through competition or participation.


Once before Social Media has aided Penny in finding her sport and she is hoping to use its power again to try and crowd fund much needed finances that could help her compete on the world stage, with the 2020 paralympics the main goal! Penny’s story is one that so many people can relate to and is a shining example of how sport can not only help you get active, but also develop personally through increased confidence and self-esteem. 


Want to keep up to date with everything Run Leeds? Sign up now to stay in the loop!