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An aspiring para-athlete finds COVID-19 helped her

Emma Olsen
Gabby Wright using the wind trainer her dad built her
Gabby Wright using the wind trainer her dad built her  Gabby Wright

New Zealand's nationwide lockdown helped a para-athlete train more than she usually would.

Gabby Wright, 15, was playing netball one day and was paralysed the next.

In 2016, she picked up an everyday cold that triggered an auto-immune response and left her with absolutely no function or movement below her waist.

An MRI and Lumbar puncture diagnosed her with Transverse Myelitis, a condition that is essentially inflammation of the spinal cord resulting in a neurological disorder, causing paralysis below the level of the inflammation.

Ever since, the Pakuranga College year 11 student has focused on one day being able to walk again, but in the meantime, is finding the positives of her condition and building on them.

"Because I always loved playing sports, I started to think about what sports I could play in a wheelchair. I tried both basketball and tennis.

"But because I am very competitive and want to play for more than just fun, I started to think about other sports that I could go to the Paralympics and compete in."

When Gabby was young she used to enjoy athletics and race in the 100m and 200m sprints. She's always had an interest in the sport and was keen to become a para-athlete.

"Last year I entered the Halberg games as part of the Parafed Auckland team. This is where I found a love for wheelchair racing."

Gabby training for athletics on track before lockdown
Gabby training for athletics on track before lockdown Gabby Wright

Gabby is renting a racing chair from Parafed Auckland and has weekly coaching sessions with the Parafed Coach.

COVID-19 has been good for Gabby and her training, to which she admitted it has given her the opportunity to train even more than she did before lockdown.

"My coach and I see it as a chance to do a lot of work to improve my endurance and fitness. My dad has built a wind-trainer for my race chair and I have three coaching sessions a week via video call, as well as doing strength and conditioning classes."

Wheeling up and down the driveway and doing an online boot camp with functional adaptive movement has become Gabby's everyday routine.

"Online training is very weird, something you have to get used to especially when you have a coach that's not good with technology. But, I'm glad we were able to do it this way because if we weren't, I would have been unable to train and lost all the progress I have made."

Training for Nationals in Tauranga at the end of the year is Gabby's next target and she wants to enter as many competitions as possible.

Her overall goal in athletics is to take it as far as she can and all going well, would like to go to the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.

"To reach this goal, I will keep training with my coach and continually working to improve my technique and fitness. Next year I'd like to look at trying to get some funding to get my own custom made racing chair, which will help me a lot."

Gabby and her training partner Jaden
Gabby and her training partner Jaden Gabby Wright