Disabled man attempts all Olympic sports: ‘Riding is the biggest challenge so far’

  • A man born without forearms or lower legs is trying all 34 Olympic and Paralympic sports, including dressage, before the end of this year’s Rio games.

    John Willis is undertaking his Road2Rio Challenge to raise funds for the charity Power2Inspire.

    The 55-year-old has completed 13 so far including triathlon, hockey, table tennis, tennis, badminton, basketball and handball with the help of a prosthetic arm.

    Riding is the biggest challenge so far along with diving off a three-metre springboard,” he told H&H.

    Mr Willis is having six lessons with instructor Mel Tomlinson at the College of West Anglia near Cambridge.

    By the end of June he hopes to be able to ride a walk only novice para dressage test, and send it to be marked by Dressage Anywhere, an website to which riders can send videos of tests to be judges.

    A shorter test will be videoed for the Olympic discipline of modern pentathlon.

    “It was a real mental and physical challenge to start riding,” Mr Willis told H&H.

    He said getting on the horse is the first big hurdle.

    “We use a mounting block but they are not designed for people without lower legs, so I put my tummy over the saddle and my right leg is pushed over. Each time is getting better,” he said.

    Painful early childhood memories of sitting on the pommel of his mother’s saddle did not help calm Mr Willis’ nerves.
    In the early 1970s, when he was growing up, there were also very few riding opportunities for disabled people.

    His third lesson is on 16 June, following sessions on a simulator.

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    “The first lesson was really stressful, but by the end of the second I was beginning to think I could sit there and relax,” he said. “A friend watching said by the end, I had a hint of a proper seat.

    Mr Willis aims to raise £50,000 for the charity he set up which aims to help anyone participate in sport, “regardless of body type, age, disability, or ethnicity”.

    For more information, visit the charity’s website.

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